Press Freedom in the Middle East: We’re at the Top of the Table from Below!
By Ahmad Karakira
The MENA region is the “most difficult and dangerous” area for journalists, announced Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in its World Press Freedom Index report in 2019. We’re at the end of 2020 and nothing has changed yet. In fact, according to RSF, the region scores the highest number of killed journalists compared to other regions.
Public unrests such as ongoing wars, conflicts, and protests are seen as a major cause for violations against press freedom, mentioned the report. This explains the low rankings scored by Iraq (162), Yemen (167) and Syria (174) out of 180 countries, where the numbers of killed and imprisoned journalists continue to rise.
The ranking of Saudi Arabia (170) and other wealthy Gulf countries, however, shows that even countries mostly living in peace tend to silence critical and doubtful journalists towards the ruling class. Since January, 20 Saudi journalists were arrested by the authorities, scoring the highest number in the world this year. Jamal Khashoggi, late Saudi journalist for the Washington Post, is a clear answer by the kingdom on questioning the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; a clear no!
Of all Middle Eastern countries, Lebanon had the highest ranking (102). The October 17 uprising has encouraged journalists and activists to raise their voice against the corruption of the political class. This has led to an increasing number of violations against press freedom translated into physical and verbal attacks from security forces and politically affiliated groups. In addition, several journalists and activists have been constantly called to show up to the bureau for combatting cyber-crimes, within vague Lebanese laws related to freedom of expression and absence of a clear internet law.
In Palestine, Palestinian journalists are subjected to multiple violations, not only by the authorities, but by the Israeli occupation. Arrests, assaults, and interrogations are part of the daily challenges that Palestinian journalists have to deal with, whether in the West Bank or in Gaza.
In general, Norway is on the top of the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, while North Korea counts as the least country with press freedom. Speaking on a worldwide scale, 30 journalists were killed and 240 are imprisoned in addition to 119 citizen journalists arrested till this moment.