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Press and Cultural Freedom Violations in the Levant-November 2019
January 14, 2020

Violations against journalists, photographers, reporters, artists and activists continued on an almost daily basis in Lebanon during the month of November. Seven media professionals were assaulted, six prevented from filming, four insulted and two threatened at the hands of Amal and Hezbollah supporters, security forces and some protesters. Also, five journalists received WhatsApp threats and insults, while a sixth was bullied and threatened along with her mother. Moreover, a local TV channel was attacked with Molotov, cable providers cut the broadcasting of a channel following partisan pressure and several correspondents were prevented from covering two press conferences. In addition, a Syrian journalist and an activist were questioned and a complaint filed against a news website. In Syria, a citizen journalist was killed by Russian airstrikes, while two others were arrested and a third one beaten. As for the Israeli police, it shut down the offices of Palestine TV in Jerusalem, questioned a correspondent and a photographer, detained a journalist and cancelled a cultural event. The Israeli soldiers continued to target journalists and photographers in the West Bank, where a cameraman was hit by a bullet in the eye, four others injured, a journalist sprayed with teargas and another one beaten. In Gaza, the Israeli army shot two photographers, while a Salafist group threatened the members of a music band and 24 radio station employees were laid off from work. In Jordan, security officers confiscated 500 copies of a book while a journalist was prevented from covering an event.

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

In Lebanon, the mobile numbers of five Al-Jadeed reporters were shared on WhatsApp groups with instructions to harass them (11/17), while LBCI news anchor Dima Sadek and her mother were victims of repeated bullying campaigns because of the journalist’s views and positions (11/18). Also, the latter’s phone was forcibly taken from her while she was in the Ring area. She then resigned from LBCI, saying the station kept her off air and wanted to exert censorship over her tweets (11/25). Cable providers cut the broadcasting of Al-Jadeed in areas of south Lebanon, Beirut’s southern suburbs and Baalbeck-Hermel following partisan pressure (11/21), while the OTV studio was attacked with a Molotov cocktail in Monte-Verde (11/30).
Also in November, Customs Chief Badri Daher prevented Al-Jadeed correspondents Hassan Al-Rifai and Riyad Kobeissi from attending a press conference he held (11/07) and several magazines and websites were not invited to attend the press conference of Lebanon’s Central Bank governor (11/11). The Criminal Investigation Department questioned activist Ali Mazloum in the complaint filed against him by Hezbollah’s security chief Wafiq Safa for slander and defamation in his Facebook publications (11/18) and the Army Intelligence questioned Syrian journalist Ahmad Alqusair and prevented him from covering the protests in Tripoli’s Al-Nour square (11/22).
On the other hand, the Publications Court decided to clear Nida’ Al Watan, in the lawsuit filed against the newspaper for undermining the dignity of the head of state (11/21) and against activists Assaad Zebian and Zein Nassereddine for “insulting the Lebanese flag” (11/29). Minister Gebran Bassil filed a complaint against Al-Jaras magazine for defamation, libel and slander (11/12) and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri filed a complaint against Al-Jadeed TV and its CEO Tahseen Khayat for “inciting sectarian strife, spreading false news and slander and defamation” (11/13).

In Syria, citizen journalist Abdul-Hamid Al-Youssef was killed by Russian airstrikes in Idlib (11/10), while Tahrir al-Sham members assaulted citizen journalist Omar Al-Hajj Qaddour before confiscating his equipment (11/07) and arrested activist Qinana Handawi at Al-Bayada checkpoint in the Idlib countryside for unknown reasons (11/21). Also, the Kurdish security organization Asayish arrested Smart news agency correspondent Alaa Saadoun and citizen journalist Haitham Musallam in Kobani (Ain Al-Arab), in north-eastern part of the Aleppo province (11/20).

In Jordan, the authorities confiscated 500 copies of the book “Witnessed Day” by Jordanian author Ayman Al-Atoum at Queen Alia International Airport under the pretext that the media commission issued a decision to ban the novel because of information mentioned in the book about the 1968 Karameh Battle (11/20). Also, Jordanian security officers prevented Al-Ghad newspaper and SKeyes correspondent Ghada Al-Sheikh from covering the arrival of released Jordanian detainees Abdul-Rahman Merhi and Heba Al-Labadi to King Hussein Medical City (11/17). Moreover, the deliberate sarcastic attitude adopted by Labour Minister Nidal Bataineh against Sixty Minutes TV show host, Hassan Al-Kurdi, sparked widespread criticism, which prompted the Press Association to ask the Minster to apologize to the media, to the Jordan Radio and Television Corporation and to the host himself (11/08).

In the Gaza Strip, Israeli soldiers fired at Palestinian photographers Hassan Eslayeh and Ashraf Abou Amra in Khan Yunis, which forced them to leave their equipment behind (11/25). Internally, Salafist groups threatened the families of the Sol Band members and Hamas security questioned the father of the band’s founder (11/21). Also, the Public Prosecution questioned journalist Amjad Arafat over a Facebook comment (11/18); UNRWA terminated the contracts of 24 employees working for the Forsan Al-Irada radio station without prior notice (11/28); and the Khan Yunis Magistrate Court postponed the trial of journalist Ihab Fasfus for the fourth time (11/04).

In the West Bank, an Israeli sniper fired a rubber-coated bullet at photographer Moaz Amarneh near Hebron, which cost him his sight in one eye (11/15). Israeli soldiers also targeted photographers Sari Jradat, Thaer Al-Fakhury, Misaab Shawer and Hamad Taqatqa, as well as journalist Munjed Jado with teargas and stun grenades in Bethlehem, causing them various injuries (11/17). Photographer Mohammad Maslah was also hit by a bullet that damaged his camera in Al-Bireh (11/26) and photographer Motasem Saqf was severely beaten near Ramallah (11/17).

In the 1948 Territories, the Israeli police shut down the Palestine TV offices in Jerusalem for six months under the pretext that the channel incited against Israel and questioned correspondent Christine Rinawi and photographer Ayman Abou Rammuz twice (11/20). In addition, the police arrested freelance journalist Ahmad Al-Safadi while he was covering a protest to show solidarity with the prisoners; he was released several hours later (11/02). Finally, the Israeli police banned an event aimed at discussing the book “History of the Islamic Movement,” near Haifa, under the pretext that it supports a banned terrorist organization (11/13).



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