Threats To Journalists

A journalist’s life can be full of danger. Those reporting in war-torn areas are at constant threat of physical danger. In other places, they can be threatened for what they report. In September Human Right Watch issued a report “A Life-Threatening Career: Attacks on Journalists under Yemen’s New Government”. Last month, Reporters Without Borders reported on a renewed fatwa against reporters.

Threats To Journalists In Yemen

Threats to and violence against journalists in Yemen have been increasing since Feb 2012, when the present president took office. The threats and violence have come from the opposition and various armed groups. For example, on Sept 18, the news director and 3 cameramen from Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV were beaten, insulted, and threatened by participants in a march in Sanaa calling for the prosecution of those responsible for the 2011 “Kentucky massacre”, during which protesters against the then president’s regime were killed.  And on Sept 9, the staff of the newspaper Al-Sharea received telephone calls warning them that their office would be burned down with all the employees inside if they did not “stop publishing any information about Al-Qaeda and Saudi Arabia”.

Fatwa In Pakistan Against Journalists

Reporters Without Borders have announced that a fatwa against journalists that was issued a year ago has recently been reissued on Oct 19 in the form of a post on Twitter. This was about the time that teenage education activist Malala Yousafza, who had been shot a year ago by the Taliban, had been awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament.

A group that supports the outlawed coalition Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TPP) has claimed responsibility for reissuing the fatwa. The TPP has denied its role, but did not dispute the message.

The fatwa was first issued shortly after the Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai. It named Dewa Radio, Mishal Radio, Azadi Radio, Radio Aap ki Dunya, and the BBC as targets, and specifically included the photographs of two nationally known journalists—Hamid Mir, host of the Capital Talk program on TV channel Geo News, and Hasan Nisar, a Geo News reporter and commentator. These targets are seen as “enemies of the mujahideen”, and the instruction is that they should be given an initial warning and “may then be pardoned if they end their hostility to Islam and their anti-Muslim propaganda”. However, the threat is that “actions in accordance with mujahideen policy must be adopted with those who persist in their work”. The fatwa accused the media named of promoting secularism and western values, and that by refusing to use the term “martyr, they were portraying the Taliban as terrorists and enemies of peace.

The Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors has responded to the fatwa by issuing a statement that it would continue its mission of informing the public despite the threats.

Think About It

What does terrorism include? Does it include threats to journalists? If so, can extremist groups such as the Taliban protest about being portrayed as terrorists and enemies of the peace? Does Islam approve of the kinds of the threats and violence to journalists of the kind being issued in Yemen and Pakistan?





Call To Drop Charges

The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, have separately called on Sudan to drop charges against at least 10 journalists who have reported on the alleged rape and torture of a 25-year-old art graduate. The Committee to Protect Journalists also called on Sudan to abandon all other tactics of harassment against these journalists. Why should the Sudanese government be so sensitive to reports of what this young woman went through? For a start, she is a pro-democracy activist. Secondly, the rape and torture were carried out by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).

The Case Of Safiya Ishag

Safiya (or Safia) Ishag’s “crime” was to be associated with pro-democracy group Girifna and to have attended some rallies in January this year, where she was seen handing out flyers. A week or two later, on her way back from a bookstore, she was pounced upon by the security services, who brought her to a building where she was beaten, thrown to the ground, and brutally raped before being released with the warning that if she were caught again things could be worse. She went public with her story in a video that she uploaded on the internet.

The Charges Against The Journalists

Among the journalists charged for reporting the rape is Omar-al Gerai, who wrote a piece titled “Rape…Under Sharia Law”. Not only did he delve into Safiya Ishag’s case, but he also looked critically at the Sudanese justice system and the tens of thousands of detainees who have been subjected to it. Charged along with him was Abdullah Sheikh (or Shaikh), editor of Ajras al-Huriya, the paper that published Omar-al Gerai’s article in March. They were not told what the charge was until they were in court last month, when they found out that they were being charged with defamation. The trial has been adjourned till June 21.

The Problem With Sudan

As the Committee to Protect Journalists sees it, “Rather than address the systematic failures that enable torture and rape, the Sudanese government has chosen to subject journalists who cover them to politicized legal proceedings. The problem is rape and torture in government custody, and a political culture that tolerates such acts”.

To the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies the charges “seem motivated by a desire to prevent pubic discussion of NISS conduct rather than a desire to protect the reputation of individual security agents”.

Think About It

Why is rape such a common weapon of political violence? Do the perpetrators think that it might silence their victims and act as a warning to other activists to tone down their activities? Would Sudan heed the calls by the two organizations to drop the charges against the journalists?