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Media and Cultural Freedom Violations in the Levant-Monthly Report – January 2018
February 17, 2018

In Lebanon, press freedom violations have significantly increased in January 2018: journalists were beaten, threatened, intimidated, summoned, questioned, arrested and tried in absentia. In Syria, ten citizen journalists were injured, including five by Syrian and Russian aircraft bombing. The Israeli police arrested journalists and attacked them with stun grenades in the 1948 Territories and the West Bank, where journalists were also brought to court by the Palestinian Security Services. In the Gaza Strip, journalists were detained by the Hamas Intelligence Service and arrested for publications in Jordan.

Below is a detailed summary of the violations monitored by the SKeyes Center in all four countries.

In Lebanon, three men assaulted journalist Ahmad Al-Ayoubi in Tripoli (01/13), while the Army Intelligence detained activists Obada Youssef for three days (01/22) and Tima Hayek for 24 hours (01/31), following Facebook publications in which they criticized Lebanese political leaders. Also, Al-Mayadeen TV journalist, Lana Mudawar, erased a tweet she had published upon her director’s request, after Amal supporters gathered in front of the channel’s offices to protest against her comment (01/29) and the military tribunal sentenced journalist Hanin Ghaddar in absentia to six months in prison for “undermining the Lebanese army” (01/10) while Beirut’s first investigative judge issued a bench warrant against journalist Maria Maalouf in the complaint filed against her for a tweet in which she suggest Israel should kill Hassan Nasrallah (01/04).

Also in January, journalist Marcel Ghanem appeared before the investigative judge after a controversial interview on his LBCI weekly talk-show Kalam Al Nass (01/04) and activist Hanadi Gerges before the Public Prosecutor in Tripoli following old Facebook posts (01/03) in which she criticized the Minister of Foreign Affairs Gebran Bassil. Also, journalist Mohammad Zbib appeared before the Single Criminal Judge in Beirut in the suit brought against him by Interior Minister Nohad Machnuk (01/22) and journalist Rabih Damaj went to the Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Bureau after he published a bill of indictment in a paedophilia case (01/15); the same bureau contacted journalist Zeinab Hawi to obtain personal information after a complaint was filed against her (01/09). Moreover, the Public Prosecutor at the Court of Cassation filed a lawsuit against humorist Hisham Haddad, the Addiyar daily and its editor-in-chief Charles Ayoub (01/27) for mocking Saudi politicians and forwarded to the Mount Lebanon Public Prosecutor the complaint filed against channel and journalist Joe Maalouf, following a controversial Hawa Al Horriyeh talk-show (01/11). Also, the company owning the Eden Bay project filed a complaint against the MTV channel after it violated the decision not to decry the project in its broadcasts and claimed a fine of 180 million LBP (01/16) while the Interior Minister decided to ban Greg McLean’s movie Jungle because the author of the book that inspired the film is Israeli (01/13).

In Syria, ten citizen journalists were injured. January has, however, been the first month where no journalists, artists or citizen journalists were killed, since the beginning of the popular uprisings. Activist Mohammad Kassem and members of his family were injured when the regime warplanes bombed Idlib (01/28) while Orient TV correspondent, Yaman Al-Sayed, was wounded during the bombing of the Damascus province (01/02). Another Orient correspondent, Bassel Al-Ghazzawi, as well as Zaman Al-Wasl daily correspondent, Hatem Al-Zoabi were injured when the regime forces shelled Deraa, while Al-Jisr correspondent, Abdul-Kader Al-Abdo, Qasioun press agency correspondent, Abdul-Kader Al-Bakri and the Al-Yum channel correspondent, Hussein Al-Tawil, were wounded while covering the clashes between the regime’s army and opposition forces in the Idlib province (01/11). Orient TV correspondent, Shaher Sumac, and Smart press agency correspondents, Abu-Yazan Al-Homsi and Bassel  Hawa, were injured during the Russian aircraft bombing of the Idlib province (01/29).

In Jordan, the Amman Public Prosecutor has ordered the arrest of the Jafra News website editor-in-chief Omar Al-Maharmeh and his colleague Shadi Al-Zitani (01/16), in the complaint filed against them by the Minister of Finance, after Al-Zitani published articles tackling tax evasion by Jordanian leaders. They were released on bail two days later. Also, the security services prevented the organization of a sit-in of solidarity with the two journalists the next day in front of the Prime Minister’s office (01/17); protesters then decided to gather before the Jordanian Journalists Union. 

In the Gaza Strip, Facebook posts calling for an improvement of the living conditions and criticizing the Hamas government prompted the intelligence service to arrest the people who published them, namely journalists Amer Baalousheh (01/02) and Alaa Salameh (01/10), writer Abdallah Abu Sharakh (01/03) and photographer Ihab Fasfus (01/30).

In the West Bank, Al-Ghad Al-Arabi channel correspondent, Raed Sharif, was injured in the foot, after Israeli forces fired a stun grenade (01/12) and the Ofer military court postponed once again the trial of freelance journalist Missaab Said until February 20 (01/16). Internally, the Palestinian Preventive Security summoned journalist Missaab Kofeisheh but he refused to show up (01/11) and the Nablus court referred Al-Aqsa satellite channel correspondent, Tarek Abu Zeid, to the penal court (01/21). Also, the Public Prosecutor appealed against the decision to acquit Palestine Today channel correspondent, Jihad Barakat, while he was filming the convoy of Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah being arrested at an Israeli checkpoint (01/09).

In the 1948 Territories, the Israeli policed fired stun grenades at journalists Mohammad Al-Qarut Idkidik and Ahmad Al-Safadi (01/13), as well as photographer Fayez Abu Rmeileh (01/20) while they were covering protests in Jerusalem. The police also detained freelance photographer Ayman Abu Rmuz for three hours at the Damascus Gate (01/24) and prevented a press conference from taking place at Al-Dar hotel in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood before detaining journalists Ahmad Al-Safadi, Abdul-Latif Gheith and Hani Al-Issawi for three hours (01/09).