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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

SKeyes 2011 Annual Report – Press and Cultural Freedom in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine

Tuesday , 03 April 2012

The violations carried out against media and cultural freedoms in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan, the four countries that the SKeyes Center monitors took various forms in January 2012 and were unprecedented in scale and brutality. Human rights activist Mahmoud Abu Rahmeh was stabbed several times in Gaza, journalists were beaten in Jordan, summonses, arrests and intimidations continued in the West Bank and website hacking cases only grew bigger in Lebanon. The “hunting” of Palestinian photographers and correspondents was particularly cruel: the Israeli forces premeditatedly attacked them with teargas, stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets. But the deadliest violations were undeniably perpetrated in Syria: Syrian journalist Shukri Abu Al-Borghol succumbed to his injuries, after a bullet hit him in the face in the Rif Dimashq province. French journalist Gilles Jacquier died while covering developments in Homs, where Belgian journalist Steven Wassenaar was also seriously wounded.

In February, the bloodbath in Syria overshadowed all other violations carried out against journalists, intellectuals and human rights activists. Five journalists were killed in Homs during the indiscriminate shelling of residential areas: American journalist Mary Colvin, French journalist Rémi Ochlik, citizen journalists Mazhar Tayara and Anas Al-Tarsha and photographer Rami Ahmad Al-Sayed. Also, a sniper killed artist Muthanna Al-Massarani, and human rights activist Abderrazzak Al-Darwish died under torture at Deir Ez-Zor. The New York Times correspondent Anthony Chedid succumbed to an asthma crisis after he sneaked into Syria.

Below is a detailed summary of the violations reported by the SKeyes Center during the first two months of the year.

 

In Lebanon, website hacking cases have significantly increased in January 2012, such as the Facebook page of Future News TV host Paula Yacoubian (01/18), the Al-Jaras magazine Facebook page (01/11), writer Saoud Al-Mawla’s e-mail address (01/05) and the Now Lebanon website (01/19). Also, an unknown person sent false statements from a fake e-mail account on behalf of journalist Hala El-Murr (01/04).

Belgian singer Lara Fabian canceled her two concerts, scheduled at the Casino du Liban, following a call for boycott, launched by the Campaign to Boycott Israel in Lebanon (01/19). The owner of the “Beirut Theatre” closed down the place in spite of the Minister of Culture’s decision to list the theatre as a historic building (01/09). Religious and political authorities, as well as civil society organizations seized the National Council of Audiovisual Media (NCAM) regarding the sexually-charged content of LBC’s “Lazem Taaref” (You Must Know) program and New TV’s “Lil Nashr” (To Be Published) show (01/10).

On the judicial front, the Publications Court imposed a fine on journalist Fares Khachan for libel and slander against former President Emile Lahoud (01/23) and on Al-Jaras magazine for libel and slander against Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe (01/31). More than four months after the closure of the publishing house Dar Alf Layla Wa Layla (The Thousand and One Nights), the Labor Arbitration Council decided to postpone to February the examination of the complaint filed by the laid-off employees (01/31). Also, the son of journalist Moustafa Geha decided to reopen the case of his father’s assassination in 1992; Geha was killed because of his political stances and the ideas he published in many articles and more than 25 books (01/16). A gathering was held at the Press Syndicate headquarters to support Sheikh Hassan Msheimesh during his trial. His supporters called him a “prisoner of conscience” and asked the judiciary authority to promote justice and transparency. Msheimesh had published five books and launched the Difaf (Shores) magazine, dedicated to cultural and intellectual affairs; he is being tried for alleged intelligence with Israel.

In February, the car windshield of New TV correspondent Ramez Al-Kady was broken and the security forces asked photographers to erase the images showing workers refraining from eliminating the violations to the electricity grid in the region of Tariq Al-Jadideh (02/23). Also, an MTV reporter was forced to erase the pictures of expired potato chips bags taken inside a factory (02/04). A Facebook campaign was launched against cartoonist Pierre Sadek, after he published a drawing of Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah in Al-Joumhouriya newspaper and on his website (02/24). Former MP Nasser Kandil threatened several journalists, in an interview with Syrian TV channel Al-Dounia, mentioning the name of Al-Arabiya host, Najwa Kassem, among others. Kassem held Kandil responsible for her safety and that of her family in Lebanon (02/09). Egyptian director Ahmad Al-Attar canceled his play “On the importance of being an Arab”, refusing to submit his text to the Lebanese General Security’s censorship office (02/23). Moreover, a group of Armenian youths ransacked a Turkish university exhibition at the Monroe hotel in Beirut (02/24), the NBN website was hacked and a hacking attempt of the Lebanese Forces website was detected (02/09).

Also in February, the Military Court sentenced human rights activist Ali Khalil to two months in prison (02/08); the decision was eventually commuted to a fine. The Publications Court sentenced Al-Jaras magazine to pay a fine of six million LBP (02/21) and Al-Jazeera cut off its broadcasts in several Lebanese regions, following the conflict that opposed the Cable Network Union to the Sama Company (02/08), which bought the exclusive rights to broadcast Al-Jazeera’s sports channels. Moreover, Abdel Hadi Mahfouz, the head of the National Audiovisual Media Council, asked Gabriel Murr, MTV’s Board Chairman, to “monitor the reports of the MTV correspondents in occupied Palestine” (02/22) and the Council banned the sex education programs on air before 10:30 pm (02/22). The Lebanese Editors Association approved amendments to the publications law that should be submitted to the President of the Parliamentary Committee for Information and Telecommunications (02/29) and the Union of the Graphic Designers said there were obstacles inside the Ministry of Culture, preventing them from joining the Artists’ Union (02/14).

Lebanese journalists organized a sit-in in solidarity with their colleagues who were killed and injured in Homs at the Samir Kassir square in downtown Beirut. Also, fifty Lebanese writers joined the Syrian Writers Associations as honorary members, in protest against repression and dictatorship (02/24).

 

In Syria, the media scene was once again stained with the blood of journalists, thus demonstrating the extremely dangerous situation prevailing in the country since the beginning of the popular uprising in March 2011.

Syrian journalist Shukri Abu Al-Borghol succumbed to his injuries, after a bullet hit him in the face in the Rif Dimashq province (01/02). French journalist Gilles Jacquier died while covering a rally in Homs, where his companion, Belgian journalist Steven Wassenaar, was also seriously wounded (01/11).

Syrian authorities released several journalists, human rights activists and bloggers: Amer Matar, who has been detained since the beginning of the popular uprisings in Syria (01/04), Abdul Majid Tamr after 232 days of detention (01/18), Najati Tayara after 8 months in prison and Qais Abazly after 69 days of detention (01/25). However, the authorities arrested blogger Mohammad Ghazi Kannas in Damascus (01/03), artist Khodr Abdel-Karim in the Al-Haska governorate (01/31) and filmmaker Ghassan Abdallah, who was released the same day (01/22). Finally, writer Bassam Junaid was questioned because of an article he published in the Baladna newspaper, criticizing the behavior of the Baath Party (01/29).

In February, the exactions only grew bigger, particularly because of the regime’s violent military response to the ongoing insurgency. Five journalists were killed in Homs during the indiscriminate shelling of residential areas: American journalist Mary Colvin (02/22), French journalist Rémi Ochlik (02/22), citizen journalists Mazhar Tayara (02/04) and Anass Attarcha (02/24) as well as photographer Rami Ahmad Al-Sayed (02/21). The artist Muthanna Al-Massarani was also killed by a sniper (02/07).

Human rights activist Abderrazzak Al-Darwish died under torture at Deir Ez-Zor (02/28) and the New York Times correspondent Anthony Chedid lost his life after an asthma attack (02/17), a few days after he sneaked into Syria. Another victim was human rights activist Nasreddine Barhak, who succumbed to his injuries, nine days after the assassination attempt that targeted him (02/22).

The arbitrary arrests were also numerous: the security forces arrested Syrian journalists Ahmad Al-Salla (02/13) and Nabil Sharbaji (02/26), Palestinian journalist Mohannad Omar (02/29), singer Bahra’ Hijazi (02/02), actor and writer Adnan Zra’i (02/29) and members of the Kurdish National Council’s executive committee Ibrahim Khalil Berro and Mohammad Youssef Berro (02/06). In yet another sign of hostility towards rights organizations, the Syrian Air Force Intelligence arrested the team members of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (02/16) before releasing women and keeping men in custody. Syrian authorities released filmmaker Firas Fayad after five months of detention (02/20). This did not prevent Syrian regime opponents from hacking the website of the pro-government TV channel Al-Dounia (02/24) and the Syrian regime continued to deliberately blur the signal of the Al-Arabiya channel in Syria (02/15).

 

In Jordan, the most important violation in January was the attack carried out against Al-Dustour photographer Hamza Al-Mazraawi and Jordan News TV photographer Raed Al-Ortani, who were beaten up while covering a sit-in in downtown Amman (01/20). The Senate tried to circumvent the opposition of media institutions to article 23 of the anti-corruption law, by adopting a motion aiming at including the much-decried clause in the Penal Code (01/12). The Jordanian Parliament issued a statement, suggesting the possibility of arraigning the Rum website, after it published an article considered “inaccurate and damaging for the Parliament” (01/11) and a group of unknown people hacked the InLight Press website (01/28).

On another hand, fifty Jordanian Members of Parliament signed a censorship motion against the Minister of State for Media and Communication Rakan Al-Majali, following his statements regarding the early parliamentary elections (01/11). Finally, the management of the Jordanian newspaper Al-Arab Al-Yawm decided to exclude journalist Walid Hosni from the parliamentary news section because of a comment he posted on his Facebook page, in which he criticized the administration of the newspaper (01/04).

In February, the most dangerous exaction was undeniably the attack carried out against Jordanian blogger and activist Inas Moussallem, who was stabbed in the stomach after publishing an article criticizing Prince Hassan Bin Talal on her blog (02/20). Also, Al-Taghyir (The Change) journalist, Imad Al-Nashash was threatened and insulted, and a group of unknown people raided the garage of Al-Ghad journalist, Muayid Abu Sbeih before breaking the windshield of his car (02/12). Two extremist Israeli organizations attacked cartoonist Imad Hajjaj, accusing him of anti-Semitism (02/01).

Also in February, Jordanian MPs called on judicial authorities to take legal action against the Al-Ghad newspaper, following the publication of a report related to MPs holding two nationalities (02/11). Al-Ra’i journalists protested against the government’s interference in the newspaper (02/01) and the President of the anti-corruption commission strongly criticized the electronic media in Jordan, demanding a law to regulate their work (02/25). Websites refused to respond to the government’s call for a meeting with media institutions, because the government has been neglecting the Jordanian Press Association’s role and not taking a firm stand against the abuses carried out against journalists (02/14). 

Judicially, the Jordanian justice dropped charges against journalists Rida Al-Qallab and Khaled Fkheydeh (02/28) and the Jordanian press reported that 51 Jordanian journalists had been bribed by Mohammad Al-Dhahabi, former Director of the Jordanian Intelligence Services (02/05).

 

In the Gaza Strip, the violations were not numerous but extremely dangerous in January 2012. Human rights activist Mahmoud Abu Rahmeh was stabbed several times, after publishing an article in which he criticized the “resistance” (01/13). The Hamas deposed government banned 13 young Palestinians from participating in the New Star musical competition show, aired on Mix Maan television. According to the TV station, Hamas considered this program as "contrary to traditions" (01/15). The media office of the Hamas deposed government in Gaza strongly criticized the Maan news agency, accusing it of “distorting facts and showing greater hostility towards Gaza than the Zionist entity and the secret services”.

The Palestinian authority and the Hamas movement continued to ignore the Freedom commission’s decision to lift the ban on the distribution of newspapers in the West Bank and Gaza, knowing that the decision should have been implemented before January 15. This showed that the Palestinian division is still having direct impact on the freedom of expression and the free exercise of journalism in the two regions.

In Februart, calm prevailed on the Gazan media and cultural scene. Only two violations were reported: the Hamas security service summoned journalist Maali Abu Samra (02/06) and the director of the Al-Dameer Center for Human Rights, Khalil Abu Shamala, was notified of a complaint filed against him by the Hamas-run energy authority for “creating a rift amongst citizens and threatening the security of the authority” (02/26).

 

In the West Bank, the violations carried out against Palestinian journalists surged in January. The “hunting” of Palestinian photographers and correspondents was the most violent exaction: the Israeli forces premeditatedly attacked them with teargas, stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets. Many journalists, reporters and photographers were wounded and severely asphyxiated while covering anti-fence and anti-settlement protests.

An Israeli soldier shot Mouhib Al-Barghouthi, an Al-Hayat Al-Jadidah photographer, who was seriously wounded in the leg (01/27).  Israeli forces deliberately fired teargas at journalist Haroun Amayra and Mohammad Attieh, a photographer for the Popular Resistance press office, who were both injured in the foot (01/27). Also, Israeli authorities banned journalist Mohammad Bisharat from heading to Jordan without any justification (01/21), the military court summoned journalist Youssef Abu Jass (01/22) and police authorities extended for the third consecutive time the administrative detention of Al-Quds satellite TV program coordinator Nawaf Al-Amer (01/26). The Samaria Military Court extended the detention of the Palestinian News Network (PNN) correspondent, Ameen Abo Wardeh and the Israeli military court of Ofer decided to postpone the trial of Radio Marah broadcaster Raed Sharif to complete the procedures related to their trials (01/04). Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the Palestinian Authority to condemn the Palestine television, for taking a call from the mother and the aunt of the prisoner who carried out the “Itamar settlement” attack, during the broadcast of a program related to prisoners.

Internally, the Palestinian Authority security forces arrested journalist Rami Samara for several hours, after he posted a comment on his Facebook page (01/31). The Palestinian Intelligence services (PIS) summoned the correspondent of Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayam and Jordanian daily Al-Ghad, Youssef Al-Shayeb, for nearly eight hours; Al-Shayeb was released in the early evening following the intervention of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad (01/31). Also, the Palestinian Preventive Security (PPS) summoned the correspondent of the Al-Ahram Weekly newspaper, Khaled Amayra three times in one week (01/05). The trial court of Qalqilya postponed the reading of the Palestinian writer and journalist Issam Shawar’s acquittal (01/25) and the National Gathering of Palestinian Martyrs Families website was hacked (01/09).

On a more positive point, the Palestinian Supreme Court ruled that the Attorney General’s decision to ban the satirical "Watan Aa Watar" show was not binding (01/09).

In Februay, the attacks carried out against journalists and artists were even more numerous: the Israeli army raided the Watan and Al-Quds Al-Tarbawi TV stations, as well as the Watan lil Anba’ website offices in Ramallah. The Israeli forces arrested four Watan TV employees for more than two hours. They also confiscated the station’s main transmitter, the computers as well as several important documents (02/29). Also, the Israeli forces continued their attacks against journalists covering peaceful protests: photojournalist Ahmad Maslah and a New York Times photographer were injured in the shoulder, while TNT Turkish channel photographer suffered from acute asphyxia (02/10). Moreover, Al-Hayat Al-Jadidah photographer, Issam Al-Rimawi was hit by a grenade in the foot, while Reuters photographer, Mohammad Turkman, Associated Press photographer, Bernard Arnat, Palestine TV correspondent, Sarah Al-Azra and the Al-Raya daily correspondent were asphyxiated (02/11). Associated Press correspondent, Nasser Al-Shouyoukhi was also injured by a grenade that hit his foot (02/21).

The Israeli forces arrested photojournalist Odai Hreibat, beat him up and then released him (02/12); they also arrested journalist Sahib Al-Assa and photojournalist Amro Halayika, without any legal justification (02/05). Israeli authorities extended the administrative detention of the Shehab press agency correspondent, Amer Abu Arfah, for a period of six months (02/05), that of Palestinian News Network (PNN) correspondent, Ameen Abo Wardeh, for four months (02/08) and that of Youssef Abdel Haq, the coordinator of the Palestinian cultural center Tanweer, for two months (02/07). They also banned several artists from accessing Jerusalem to take part in “The Wizard of Oz” play, which led to its cancellation (02/18).

Internally, the Palestinian Preventive Security (PPS) confiscated the camera of the Al-Aqsa satellite channel crew, as well as the ID cards of its members (02/29). Fatah's European press office director Jamal Nazzal launched a campaign against Palestinian writer Khalil Shaheen, following an interview he gave to the Al-Jazeera channel (02/06). Judicially, the Ramallah Court of First Instance paid eight thousand JOD to writer Abdel Sattar Kassem as compensation, in the lawsuit he filed against the Palestinian National Authority in 2007 (02/06). The Qalqilya Court of appeal decided to acquit writer and journalist Issam Shawar, rejecting the appeal filed against him by the Attorney General (02/27).

 

In the 1948 Territories, the Israeli authorities continued their attacks against Palestinian journalists, photographers, artists and students in January 2012. The Israeli intelligence services banned journalist Rassem Obeidat from entering the West Bank for a period of 7 months (01/31). The Israeli extremist organization Im Tirtzu called for banning artist Mohammad Bakri from performing on stage (01/27) and the Israeli police arrested the "Wadi Hilweh Information Center" staff, including its photographer Ahmad Siam for taking pictures of Israeli forces arresting a group of children at the Dung Gate, and the violent assault on a young boy (01/20). The district court of Jerusalem added two charges to the indictment brought against the Center’s director, Jawad Siam and the mediation court of Nazareth decided to postpone the trial of Imad Merhi, refusing to modify his detention conditions (01/09). The district court of Jerusalem also decided to keep two Arab students out of town for a period of one week, because they refused to attend a conference held by Israeli President Shimon Peres (01/17).

The Arab minority suffered, as always, the consequences of the racist policies adopted by the Israeli authorities. The Israeli Supreme Court rejected the appeal filed against the Nakba Law, allowing the Minister of Finance to impose fines on institutions that commemorate the Nakba. A number of Israeli museums did not provide their visitors with information in Arabic, in violation of their legal obligation. Finally, Israel Railways refused to use the Arabic language for its voice announcements in stations and trains, on the grounds that "the use of an additional language would only lead to more noise".

The number of Israeli violations on the cultural and media scene was also high in February 2012. Israeli forces attacked several of journalists and correspondents with rubber-coated bullets, teargas and stun grenades. The Hona Al-Quds photographer, Amjad Abu Arfeh was injured by a rubber-coated bullet that hit his back (02/24), Reuters photographer, Ammar Awad, was shot in the foot (02/25) and Associated Press photographer, Bernard Arnat, was severely wounded in the head (02/14). An Israeli policeman arrested Palestine TV photographer Nader Bibris and Al-Arabiya photographer, Toufic Saliba, in the Bab Al-Maghariba neighborhood, for one hour and a half (02/19) and Israeli authorities canceled a cultural forum in the Selwan neighborhood (02/13).

The Jerusalem Court of First Instance accused journalist Mahmoud Abu Ata of gathering crowds in a restricted area (02/20). On a more positive note, the Supreme Court accepted the appeal filed by journalist Ilana Dayan, following the judgment issued against her for broadcasting a report on the murder of Palestinian young girl Iman Al-Homs (02/08) and the Central Court quashed the decision condemning journalist Imad Al-Merhi to forced distancing (02/14).

Once again, several racist laws were submitted to the Knesset, including a bill condemning to imprisonment anyone who would desecrate the Israeli national anthem (02/14) and a bill encouraging donations to settlements (02/15). Also, the President of the Monitoring Committee for Arab Education in the 1948 Territories was not allowed to speak and was excluded from the Knesset Education Committee hearing (02/13). MKs expressed reservations as to the recommendations submitted by the Advisory Committee on Evaluating the Criteria for Issuing Government Press Office (GPO) Cards in Jerusalem and the 1948 Territories and several associations asked the authorities to put an end to racist laws, especially the bill related to the establishment of a biometric databank that would collect personal information on every citizen (02/29). Finally, more than 100 Palestinian writers and poets signed a membership application to join the Syrian Writers Association (02/08).

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