GENEVA - The Arab region is witnessing the worst decline in freedom of opinion and expression in its recent history, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor warned on the sidelines of the 35th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. This finding was highlighted at a seminar organized by Euro-Med and COJEP International (Council for Equality, Justice and Peace).
In her opening speech, Euro-Med Monitor researcher Rimal Saed observed that Arab countries top the list of the most repressive countries related to press freedom. Saed pointed out that, "This frustrating situation emerged after the popular and civil upheavals in the Arab world, in which residents called for political reforms to respect and value human rights."
During the past few years, hundreds of journalists have been killed and wounded while covering news events. In Syria alone, 404 journalists have been killed since the beginning of the fighting in 2011 through May of this year, and an estimated 891 were assaulted. In Iraq, 11 journalists were killed, 44 were injured and more than 375 were assaulted without harm between May 2016 and May 2017.
In her speech, Saed also cited arrests, detentions and beatings of journalists and other media workers, the threat of kidnapping and the forced halt of media coverage.
Meanwhile, the number of political detainees in UAE prisons exceeded 71 detainees as of June. Most of them were convicted on charges related to freedom of expression and were given sentences of three-10 years in prison.
In addition, tight censorship is being practiced by security and intelligence agencies; some Arab countries have even resorted to inflammatory actions against residents of other countries, considering sympathy or support of factions against them on social media a crime punishable by imprisonment and fines.
"In the Gulf Arab states, professors, journalists and lawmakers have been suppressed because they try to speak freely," said legal expert Julia Legner.
The majority of the Gulf countries have not signed international agreements on fundamental rights with the United Nations, and thus getting their cooperation is difficult.
Hussam Shaker, a media expert, also took aim at European authorities and media for contributing to an overall acceleration in rights violations, charging European media with misguiding the public with fabricated claims about refugees—thus encouraging hatred and assaults.
"Worried communities do not always think impartially and rationally when fear controls their lives, and thus people start to selectively prefer some news over others," Shaker said. "Falsification and manipulation of news are real challenges to at-risk communities. Therefore, we urge the media to be careful about the image they portray of moderate Muslim institutions and figures and commit to a critical process of observation and examination.”