Sunday, May 03, 2009 
10:45  Mecca time, 07:45  GMT     
Middle East web writers 'harassed'   
 By Alexandra Sandels in Beirut and Firas Al-Atraqchi   
The CPJ says more web-based writers than print journalists were arrested in 

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says five Middle Eastern and
North African countries are among the world's "worst online
oppressors", intimidating and imprisoning journalists and bloggers. 
In its report - The ten worst countries to be a blogger -
released a few days ahead of a World Press Freedom conference organised
by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Social Organisation
(Unesco) in Doha, Qatar, CPJ said bloggers were at most risk in Egypt,
Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.
Burma topped the list for its severe restrictions on internet use
and censorship. China was named as the country with the most
comprehensive online censorship policies.
Iran was listed as the Middle East's worst offender for its
continued harassment and intimidation of bloggers. Omidreza Mirsayafi,
an Iran-based blogger, was cited by the CPJ report as having died in
prison "under circumstances that have not been fully explained".
Targeting the web
According to an earlier study by the CPJ, 45 per cent of all
imprisoned media workers world wide are bloggers, web-based reporters,
or online editors.
Of the 125 journalists currently imprisoned around the
world, some 56 are web-based journalists and writers. The organisation
says 2009 marks the first time the number of jailed online writers
surpasses the number of detained print journalists.
Nora Younis, an Egyptian blogger and journalist, explains the trend
by saying that "bloggers are nowadays taken seriously by authorities as
well as Arab media", a significant change from a few years ago when she
said bloggers used to be ignored.
Bloggers in countries like Egypt, Syria, and Tunisia say they have
become instrumental in exposing human rights issues like police
brutality, torture, and sexual harassment which has made regional
governments undertake increasingly aggressive means to curb
Naila Hamdy, a professor of journalism at the American University in
Cairo, says that the political and cultural challenges posed by new
media have taken Arab governments by surprise.
"So far, unregulated satellite has brought fuelling of sectarian
wars, political dissent and opposing views," she told Al Jazeera in a
previous interview.
"With the possibility of thousands more stations and other
technologies catching on in a second ... I think that those in
government responsible for information regulation have realised that
they are a decade behind. They are now trying to address this new era."
The voiceless speak
In 2007, Kareem Amer was given a four-year sentence for 'insulting' Egypt's 
Nevertheless, bloggers in the Middle East are making their voices
heard. In Egypt, they took an active part in organising widespread
anti-government activities, rallying pro-Hariri protesters in Lebanon,
mounting anti-corruption campaigns in Libya and electioneering in
Kuwaiti elections. 
They have exposed the grim realities of everyday life in war-torn
Iraq. In the Gulf, female bloggers are increasingly going online
calling for change in a display of growing assertiveness.
More broadly, Arab bloggers continue to break cultural and religious
taboos: discussing the social and political malaise afflicting the Arab
world, exploring sexual identities and challenging the dominant
institutions of religion, state and family.
Ahmed Al Omran, the owner of Saudi Jeans, a Saudi Arabian
blog, is one of the most influential in the Gulf region; he hopes to
"be a part of the change that is taking place in Saudi Arabia". 
Arguing that much of the media in the region does not reflect
realities on the ground, he uses his blog as an "agent of change" to
push for social justice and greater citizen involvement in the
country's affairs.
For him, "human rights, freedom of expression and women's rights are
all important issues that our nation will need to tackle on the way to
But persecution of cyber-dissidents has became a reality in Saudi
Arabia, which has detained bloggers for "violating the kingdom's
Thirty-two-year-old Fouad al-Farhan was arrested in December 2007
and his computers seized for criticising the pace of reforms in the
He was held in solitary confinement at Dahban prison in Jeddah until his 
release in late April 2008.
Travel bans
But some countries have also in recent years imposed travel bans on bloggers 
and journalists as a means of applying pressure.
Said Essoulami, the executive director of the Morocco-based Centre
for Media Freedom in the Middle East and North Africa, believes the
bans are designed to control dissident writers and activists.
"Retaliations such as assassination and imprisonment of writers have
been reduced because there are new ways of controlling journalists," he
Essoulami said several journalists and bloggers have been barred from 
participating in international media conferences.
He pointed to the Third Arab Free Press Forum held in Beirut in
December 2008 and said many key dissident writers such as Saudi Arabian
blogger Fouad Al-Farhan, Mazen Darwish, the director of the Syrian
Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, and Tunisian journalist
Litfi Hidouri had been prevented from participating.
"In fact, every journalist invited from Syria could not come," Essoulami said.
Related articles 

 Perilsof blogging in Egypt
 Egyptian blogger sentenced to jail
 Censorship in Cyberspace
 Arab bloggers defy arrest
 Arab blog on gender rights 
Bloggers have been detained in many countries -including Bahrain,
Egypt, Morocco, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, Tunisia - for the views they
expressed on their blogs. 
Authorities in these countries are stepping up their efforts to
filter such websites. Saudi Arabia blocks thousands of websites and
Bahrain is trying to register bloggers, in further signs of a clampdown.
In 2007, Egyptian writer Kareem Amer was imprisoned for "insulting
Islam and President Hosni Mubarak" on his blog. He is currently serving
a four-year sentence at Borg Al-Arab prison outside Alexandria.
In Syria, blogger Tariq Baissi was sentenced to three years in
prison for "weakening the national feeling and the national ethos".
Biassi had posted a six word long comment in a web forum in which he
criticised the Syrian security services. Numerous other cyber
dissidents remain behind bars in Syria.
In Tunis, Nazira Rijba, a Tunisian writer and activist, was in late
2008 charged over an article she wrote in support of the Tunisian news
website Kalima which has been subject to censorship by the Tunisian
She says she is regularly harassed over the Interphone at her house
and on the street by the authorities for her work and activism.
"Do not think of us as victims," she said. "We are militants who are
being harassed by the government. We are paying the price of freedom,
but freedom is the door for change."
Fadi Zaghmout, a Jordanian web developer, uses The Arab Observer blog to write 
about personal freedoms and tolerance in the Middle East.
His blog sometimes courts controversy because it discusses topics
such as sexual freedoms, women's issues, homosexuality and gender
He says he has also been cataloguing underreported cases of sexual
harassment of women in the Arab street, honour crimes, and the social
pressures on young Arabs - particularly women - to get married.
Increased pressure
Koukha Mansour, a media analyst based in Syria, says journalists and
bloggers in the Middle East are likely to continue to face excessive
censorship and the fear of being threatened, harassed, or imprisoned in
the years to come.
"Middle East media should unify their efforts and establish a
liberated journalists union that reinforces the freedom of press and
work independently from any governmental or 'lobby' interests," she
"Journalists are using bloggers as sources more and more, quoting
reports, videos, and photos," Rachid Jankari, a Moroccan
journalist, told Al Jazeera.
Many internet activists believe the jailing of web writers will
increase in the future, especially as more and more print journalists
are said to be migrating to web-based work for various reasons,
including censorship circumvention.
"It will increase, I'm sure, as more and more people are tasting the
power of the internet and the usage of the web is spreading," said Sami
Ben Gharbia, the Tunisia advocacy director of Global Voices, told Al
"We will see more of this detainment of online journalists in the future."
With additional reporting by Julian Madsen and David Stanford. 
 Source: Al Jazeera   
Jusfiq Hadjar gelar Sutan Maradjo Lelo

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