As the MENA region has seen a significant decline in press freedoms over the last decade, journalism has become one of the most dangerous professions—particularly in areas of armed conflict, journalists are the most targeted group in several countries.
Over the last decade, journalists have been subjected to a variety of crimes, violations, and attacks, including assassinations, torture, arrests, imprisonment, direct targeting, and unfair trials as a result of their work. The only thing that parties to the conflict and governments almost unanimously agreed on was silencing the press by preventing journalists from working freely. Euro-Med Monitor has documented hundreds of journalist killings in the MENA region during this time.
Syria had the highest number of journalists killed in the region, with over 700 journalists and media workers killed, including nine foreign journalists—an average of over 63 journalists killed per year. Iraq saw the killing of 61 journalists, an average of six journalists per year, while Yemen saw the killing of 42 journalists—an average of more than five journalists per year. The Occupied Palestinian Territory recorded an average of two journalists killed per year.
Journalists in a number of other countries, such as the Gulf states, the Maghreb, Egypt, and Jordan, also face severe restrictions and control over their work. The low number of journalists killed or detained in these countries this does not reflect the state of press freedom there.
As a result of threats and laws that are updated and amended regularly to tighten the grip on the press sector, journalists in the region are forced to practise self-censorship to avoid prosecution, harassment, and attacks that go unpunished and are frequently carried out with legal impunity.
This report provides an overview of press freedoms in the 18 countries covered by Euro-Med Monitor as part of its work documenting human rights violations: Syria, Iraq, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Lebanon, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, the Sultanate of Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait.
Syria is one of the most dangerous countries in the MENA region for journalists’ safety. Hundreds of journalists and media workers have been killed in Syria over the course of around 11 years of conflict, while thousands more have been injured, arrested, or forcibly disappeared.
Journalists face daily threats in Syria at an increasingly alarming rate, which is reflected in the country’s low ranking in the World Press Freedom Index compiled and published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Syria ranks 171st out of 180 countries, placing it among the world’s 10 worst countries in terms of press freedom.
Although Syria rose two ranks on the index from 2021, this does not signify an improvement in the situation of press freedoms there; rather, it may indicate that other countries witnessed a greater number of violations during the past year. Simply put, threats and restrictions on journalistic work in Syria have not decreased in recent years.
During 11 years of conflict, more than 700 journalists and media workers, including nine foreign journalists, were killed by conflict parties in Syria between March 2011 and April 2022. This number includes journalists killed while covering events in the field, in their homes under bombardment, or in prisons under torture.
Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, the regime has made unrelenting efforts to prevent journalists and international media from entering the country. The ban on independent media has prompted many journalists and media outlets to work from outside of Syria, to ensure that they can work freely without prosecution.
In the first 10 months of 2022, a journalist was killed in Syria; approximately 30 other journalists and media workers remain imprisoned there.
In April 2022, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad introduced legislation aimed at tightening restrictions and promoting censorship of journalists and online activists. Law No. 20 of 2022 is related to cybercrime and criminalises criticism of the authorities, plus imposes penalties on perpetrators, including arrest and hefty fines.
According to Article 27 of the law: “Anyone who establishes or manages a website or publishes content with the intent of provoking actions aiming or calling for changing the Constitution by illegal means, or excluding part of the Syrian land from the sovereignty of the state, or provoking armed rebellion against the existing authorities under the Constitution or preventing them from exercising their functions derived from the Constitution, or overthrowing or changing the system of government in the state, shall be sentenced from seven to 15 years in prison and [fined between] 10 to 15 million Syrian pounds” (approximately 4008 to 6012 euros).
Furthermore, Article 28 states that “whoever, by means of information technology, publishes false news on the network that undermines the prestige of the state or national unity, shall be punished by temporary imprisonment from three to five years and a fine of five to 10 million Syrian pounds” (approximately 2004 to 4008 euros).
This is not the only restrictive law in Syria that targets journalists. The Revolution Protection Law of 1965, the Counter-Terrorism Law of 2012, and the Syrian Penal Code of 1949 all place various constraints on journalistic work and freedom of expression.
Iraq is one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, who are constantly and systematically targeted there; hardly a year goes by without a journalist being killed in the country.
Euro-Med Monitor has documented the killing of 61 journalists in Iraq over the last decade—an average of six journalists per year, and the second-highest number of journalists killed in the MENA region after Syria.
In 2022, Euro-Med Monitor documented the killing of Nagihan Akarsel, a female journalist in Iraq who was killed in front of her home in the country’s Kurdistan Region on 4 October. As of the publication of this report, dozens of journalists are still being targeted and attacked regularly.
Since the protests erupted in the capital, Baghdad, and other governorates in October 2019, there has been a dramatic increase in the targeting of journalists, particularly those who were active in covering the protests and working to highlight the voices of critics and dissidents. Iraq’s ruling authorities and political parties place severe restrictions on journalistic work, which exposes journalists to a variety of punishments and attacks such as suspension from work, confiscation and destruction of equipment, denial of coverage, the closing of media headquarters, stalking, death threats and other types of threats, kidnapping, and assassination.
The acts committed against Iraqi media institutions, as well as the threats faced by their employees and other members of the press, violate relevant national and international laws along with standards of free expression; they also fit into the framework of intimidating journalists, which has become commonplace in Iraq.
To this day, approximately five journalists are still imprisoned as a result of their work in Iraq, and are being subjected to unfair trials that include violations of fair trial standards. The law does not currently protect journalists from threats and attacks, because journalists’ killers are so rarely held accountable.
Despite the succession of two governments and the formation of numerous inquiry commissions since the outbreak of the protests, in which dozens of journalists were killed and wounded, justice is still far from being achieved. No one has been held accountable for the killings or attacks on journalists.
Yemen ranks as one of the worst countries in terms of rights violations of journalists and media workers. Journalists in Yemen have been among the most vulnerable groups since the beginning of the civil war there, as they are subjected to assassinations, direct killing, targeting, arrest, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture, and other forms of abuse perpetrated by various parties including the Yemeni government, Houthi militias, the Southern Transitional Council, and other armed militias.
Since the start of the Yemeni Civil War in 2014, Euro-Med Monitor has documented the killing of at least 42 Yemeni journalists—an average of more than five journalists per year—in a variety of incidents, most notably assassination and targeting during armed conflict.
The year 2022 saw several grave violations against journalists in Yemen, as three journalists were killed and approximately six others remain imprisoned.
Assassination continues to be one of the most dangerous threats to journalists in Yemen, as they have become strikingly common in recent years. The most recent assassination was in June 2022, when Japanese TV (NHK) correspondent Saber al-Haidari was killed by a car bomb. Prior to that, photojournalist Fawaz al-Wafi was killed in his car in March 2022, journalist Rasha al-Harazi was assassinated in November 2021, and AFP photographer Nabil al-Quaiti was shot and killed by unknown individuals in June 2020.
Furthermore, journalists in Yemen are routinely subjected to unfair prosecutions and trials as a result of their work. Four Yemeni journalists, Akram al-Walidi, Abdelkhaleq Amran, Hareth Hamid, and Tawfiq al-Mansouri, are still facing death sentences issued by the Houthi authority, which refuses to drop the charges despite widespread international pressure.
Since seizing control of the telecommunications sector, the Houthi group has closed or banned dozens of press offices, newspapers, satellite channels, and websites, as well as assaulted journalists and staff at local and international media agencies. Euro-Med Monitor has documented the deaths of at least 42 Yemeni journalists in a variety of incidents, most notably assassination and targeting during armed conflict since the beginning of the civil war.
Journalists working in the Occupied Palestinian Territory face numerous restrictions and threats from various sources. In the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, journalists face imminent threats of direct targeting by Israeli forces with live and rubber bullets, tear gas, arbitrary arrests, and detention, as well as the prohibition of event coverage and destruction and confiscation of equipment.
Furthermore, journalists face other types of restrictions that mainly aim to prevent them from freely practising their work and expressing opinions: extortion and travel bans. Israel illegally and unjustifiably prevents dozens of Palestinian journalists from travelling and moving freely as part of a policy that appears to be punitive.
Journalists in the Palestinian territory, particularly in the occupied West Bank, faced grave violations in 2022.
Euro-Med Monitor documented the killing of two Palestinian journalists, Shireen Abu Akleh, an Al-Jazeera correspondent, and Ghufran Warasneh, a presenter for the local Dream radio station. Furthermore, Israeli authorities arrested, tried, and interrogated dozens of journalists, with approximately 18 of them still imprisoned in Israeli cells.
Euro-Med Monitor published a detailed report in late 2021 titled “Punishing Journalists: Israel’s restrictions on freedom of movement and travel against Palestinian journalists”. The report details instances in which Israeli intelligence and the Israeli General Security Service (Shin Bet) blackmailed and extorted Palestinian journalists over their right to freedom of movement.
According to several journalists interviewed by Euro-Med Monitor, Israeli officers told them the travel ban imposed on them would be lifted only if they cooperated with Israeli intelligence in providing security information about Palestinians, or worked for Israel. In other cases, Israeli officers promised journalists the ban would be lifted if they gave up their journalistic work or stopped working for certain media outlets.
In cases where journalists refuse to cooperate or work with Israeli intelligence, they are subjected to “physical and psychological violence, such as arrests, beatings, imprisonment, frequent house break-ins, and threats of continuous persecution”. Journalists working in the West Bank also face restrictions imposed by the Palestinian Authority; in many cases, they face persecution, arrests, and attacks as a result of their work.
Journalists in the Gaza Strip are often targeted directly or indirectly during Israeli military operations and while covering protests near the Gaza-Israel border. They also face restrictions and harassment from the Hamas government, which controls the Gaza Strip and frequently summons and detains journalists for their work.
Since the outbreak of unrest in Libya in 2011, the targeting of journalists and independent media has increased, particularly during armed conflicts, which have occurred several times over the last decade—creating a repressive and dangerous environment for journalistic work. This hostile environment was evident in various forms of attacks against the press, including killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture, closure of certain media outlets and attacks on others, and the restriction and monitoring of journalistic work through official orders and decisions.
Since 2012, Euro-Med Monitor has documented the deaths of approximately 20 journalists in Libya, as well as hundreds of cases of detention, threats, and torture of other journalists.
Although no Libyan journalists were killed in 2022, at least one remains currently imprisoned in Libya. In general, journalists continue to face various violations despite improvements in press freedoms in Libya during this past year, and they still self-censor out of fear of being persecuted or kidnapped.
On 15 September, the Government of National Unity in Libya, headed by Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, issued Resolution No. 811 of 2022. Related to the conditions and controls for conducting media activity, the resolution imposed significant unjustified restrictions on the freedom to practise media activity, including a requirement to obtain security approval before issuing a license, and in some cases, additional security approval from the country’s intelligence service. It also imposed exorbitant annual fees for renewing licenses, and created several administrative complications that could be used to impede the issuance of media permits for arbitrary reasons.
The draft constitution that guarantees freedom of the press and media was not approved, due to the complexity of the country’s political crisis, the persistence of internal disputes, and the lack of consensus on the constitutional path. The draft establishes a Supreme Council for the media and press and requires the state to protect the freedom and independence of both. As a result, journalists work almost without legal protection and are constantly subject to arbitrary targeting by the ruling authorities, whether in Libya’s east or west, in the absence of a framework that protects them, pushes for accountability, and prevents impunity.
Journalists and independent media in Egypt face a critical crisis since the events of June 2013 and the consequent arbitrary practices that primarily targeted rights related to freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and freedom of publication. Authorities have tightened their grip on the media sector since then, shutting down opposition TV channels, radio stations, and websites, arresting and deporting a large number of journalists, and monopolising control over the country’s media sector.
The ban on independent press in Egypt is a policy shared by various state agencies. Arbitrary security practices against the media are carried out with legal and legislative backing, owing to a set of orders and legislation criminalising behaviours related to press freedom under broad and general pretexts.
Law No. 180/2018 regulating the press and the media and the Supreme Council for Media legalised Egyptian authorities to monitor and suspend accounts on social media and websites if they contribute to “spreading false news” or “what calls for or incites violation of the law, violence or hatred”. It also imposes prison sentences and fines in cases of “disturbing public order, endangering the safety and security of society, or harming the country’s national security or economic status”.
Euro-Med Monitor has documented the killing of eight journalists in Egypt since 2012, six of whom were killed in 2013.
Over the last nine years, Egyptian security forces have arbitrarily detained over 100 journalists for doing their legitimate jobs, 10 of whom are still imprisoned. The Egyptian judicial system, like other state agencies, operates effectively within the system of persecuting journalists, accusing them of false charges to justify their long-term detention. The most prominent charges are “affiliation to terrorist groups and organisations”, “spreading false news”, and “compromising national security”. Censorship of the media by the authorities is not limited to politics, but extends to anything that may not appeal to a particular authority or affect its reputation or the reputations of those associated with it, even indirectly.
In September 2022, the Cairo Appeal Court investigated four female journalists from the Mada Masr online newspaper for their role in compiling a report on potential financial corruption in one of the parties linked to the Egyptian authorities. The journalists were accused of “spreading false news that would disturb public order, harm public interest, and disrupt social media use”, and of “insulting and slandering MPs in the Nation’s Future Party [or Hizb Mostaqbal Watan, in Arabic]”.
Egyptian authorities have blocked over 500 news and human rights websites in recent years as part of their strategy to control the media sector and eliminate independent journalism. In most cases, authorities refuse to acknowledge the blocking operations or explain their purpose.
Due to the systematic and ongoing targeting of journalists, as well as the lack of a safe environment to independently practice journalism, dozens of Egyptian journalists have fled their country in recent years, preferring to continue their activities abroad to avoid being arbitrarily detained or subjected to any form of abuse.
In general, the media in Lebanon has a wide margin of freedom when it comes to dealing with various political and social issues or criticising and opposing the authorities. The majority of media outlets, however, are directly or indirectly affiliated with political parties which control their orientations, policies, and methods of covering events, whether internal or external.
In recent years, press freedom in Lebanon has declined noticeably, as the Lebanese Criminal Code provides for penalties including imprisonment and fines for behaviours related to freedom of opinion, expression, and publication, and contains broad terms about defamation, spreading false news, and other general descriptions that may be used unjustifiably to restrict the freedom of journalists or the media. This is reflected in the tens of summonses issued to journalists by Lebanese security forces for criticising political and economic officials. Journalists are frequently summoned before the security authorities as a result of complaints that are typically based on ambiguous legal provisions.
Euro-Med Monitor has documented the killing of three journalists in Lebanon over the last decade, as well as dozens of other violations such as arrests, entry bans, threats, restrictions, and attacks.
Violations against journalists have increased since the 2019 protests in Lebanon in response to the country’s economic collapse, as two journalists were killed in the two years following the protests (2020 and 2021)—the first journalist killings in the state since 2012. In December 2020, gunmen shot photojournalist Joseph Bejjani in front of his home, while journalist Luqman Salim was found shot dead in his car in February 2021, less than two months after Bejjani was killed.
Lebanese security and military services also interrogated 20 journalists for criticising the government on social media (between October 2019 and June 2020). Suleiman al-Khalidi, a journalist for global news agency Reuters, was barred from entering Lebanon in 2021 by a “sovereign” decision, presumably because of his work.
Journalists and media outlets in Sudan face strict security controls, including restrictions on freedom of expression, and complete control over the connection and disconnection of Internet services. In addition, punitive measures were imposed on media outlets that were active in covering the popular protests and accompanying widespread human rights violations following the military coup on 25 October 2021.
In 2022, the Euro-Med Monitor team documented that the de facto authority took a series of retaliatory measures against several local and international media outlets that were actively covering the military coup. Furthermore, authorities shut down several radio stations and restricted the work of others due to their participation in following up on popular protests.
On 13 January 2022, a security force raided the office of the Alaraby TV channel in Khartoum while it was covering protests against Sudan’s military coup in an apparent effort to influence the work of the channel’s team. On 18 January, the Sudanese Ministry of Information decided to close Al-Jazeera Mubasher’s office and revoke the licenses of journalist Mohammed Omar and photographer Badawi Bashir, citing unprofessional reporting of Sudanese affairs.
While the Sudanese constitution guarantees freedom of expression and the press, the reality is different. Many local laws impede the protection of these freedoms—including emergency laws and some articles of the Sudanese Penal Code, which have been used by the de facto authorities to censor content and intimidate journalists and activists since the military coup. Under those laws and procedures, covering the events following the coup and exposing human rights violations against protesters are considered red lines that require legal accountability if crossed.
For instance, Article 50 of the 1991 Sudanese Criminal Act stipulates that “Whoever commits any act with the intention of undermining the constitutional system of the country, or exposing to danger the unity and independence thereof, shall be punished with death, life imprisonment or [imprisonment] for a lesser period. He may be subject to forfeiture of all his property”.
Article 51 states: “There shall be deemed to commit the offence of waging war against the State, and punished with death, or life imprisonment, or imprisonment for a lesser term, and may also be subject to forfeiture of all property thereof, whoever:- (a) militarily wages war, against the State, by recruiting and training men and collecting arms and ammunitions, or attempts to do so, or abets the offender, or supports him in any manner”.
Following the success of the 2011 protests and the consequent democratisation of government institutions, Tunisia witnessed a major shift in media diversity and pluralism, as well as an expansion in the freedom of the independent media and press. However, with President Kais Saied imposing exceptional measures and seizing control of all government institutions in July 2021, the margin of freedom began to shrink dramatically, and journalists returned to work under the threat of prosecution and the security grip imposed by the new situation.
Saied was eager to issue several decrees and orders based on broad and general justifications, as he introduced legal rules that set publication standards and prevented ministers from making media appearances in an ostensible attempt to impose illegal censorship on the media and subject it to the disguised guardianship of executive authorities.
Saied legitimised restrictive measures against the press by issuing Decree No. 117 of 2021, which specified “regulating media, press, and publishing” (Item Five of Chapter Two) as one of the legislative tasks of the exceptional presidential orders—inciting restrictions by criminalising information dissemination. Subsequent decrees and orders issued by the Tunisian presidency and government, such as Circular No. 14 of 2022 on combating illegal speculation, and Circular No. 19 on the government’s communication work rules, have included significant restrictions on the freedom of the press with regard to both publication and information dissemination.
As per these orders, executive authorities have imposed restrictions on the media, limiting its freedom and ensuring that journalists face a variety of rights violations, including assault, detention, and trial before military courts. On 16 August 2022, a Tunisian military court sentenced journalist Saleh Attia to three months in prison on charges of harming the national army’s dignity and reputation, acting in a way that undermines the military system and diminishes subordination, accusing a public official of illegal behaviour without providing sufficient evidence, and offending others through the public telecommunications network.
Since the initial announcement of the exceptional measures until the publication of this report in October 2022, Euro-Med Monitor has documented several violations against journalists in Tunisia, including the closure of the Al-Insen satellite channel’s headquarters and prevention of their employees from working, the dismissal of the general director of Télévision Tunisienne, Mohamed Lasad al-Dahesh, and the detention of the New York Times’ special envoy Vivian Yee for several hours while she was covering events in a neighbourhood in the capital of Tunis.
From July to October 2022, Euro-Med Monitor documented the arrest by Tunisian security services of more than 15 journalists, at least two of whom were tried in military courts; dozens of others were threatened, directly attacked, or even maimed by people or websites linked to the authorities.
Morocco’s press freedom has declined noticeably in recent years, with journalists facing unprecedented prosecutions and sanctions. For many years, Moroccan authorities have imposed severe restrictions on freedom of the press, opinion and expression.
By constantly targeting opposition press institutions and harassing journalists for their published work or for expressing their views, as well as subjecting them to violence, arbitrary detention, and unfair trials, Moroccan authorities ultimately seek to undermine the right to freedom of expression and the practice of journalism, as it opposes or criticizes state policies.
Due to a lack of adequate constitutional and legal guarantees designed to protect the fundamental right to freedom of expression and journalistic work in general, violations and abuses that characterise the state’s policy towards these freedoms have increased. This is reflected in Moroccan authorities’ continued use of the Criminal Code rather than the Press and Publishing Code to monitor and criminalise journalists and activists for expressing their views, including on social media platforms.
In recent years, Moroccan authorities have arrested, tried, and imprisoned several independent journalists on questionable charges for critical or anti-state views expressed in their journalistic work. Some of the views have addressed state corruption or authorities’ repressive practices towards documenting protests within the country; charges against journalists included extramarital sex, treason, sexual harassment, and more. Authorities appear to use accusations of moral misconduct against opposing journalists to undermine their credibility and reputation, as well as limit support and solidarity with them.
In 2022, Euro-Med Monitor documented the arrest or continued detention of at least 10 journalists in Morocco, including Tawfiq Bouachrine, Omar Radi, and Suleiman Raissouni, following trials marred by irregularities under both domestic and international legal principles. Some were sentenced to 15 years in prison, like Akhbar Al-Youm newspaper founder Tawfiq Bouachrine, who was arrested in February 2018; the Supreme Court of Cassation sentenced Bouachrine in September 2021 on apparently false charges including sexual exploitation and human trafficking, following a trial impaired by blatant legal violations.
The absence of investigations into information published by human rights and international organisations about Moroccan authorities’ monitoring of Internet use and targeting of activists and journalists using Pegasus spyware—developed by the Israeli company NSO—through intercepting and spying on phone calls and violating the right to privacy, reflects authorities’ intention to continue pursuing and suppressing freedom of the press.
Within the last decade, journalist Tommy Ameen was killed by a bomb planted by a terrorist group in eastern Algeria (July 2013), and Algerian-British journalist Mohamed Tamalt died in December 2016 after going on a hunger strike in protest of his detention. Tamalt had served five months of a two-year prison sentence for “offending” Algeria’s president online.
Although the number has decreased in the last two decades compared to previous decades, the statistics regarding journalist killings or assassinations in Algeria does not accurately reflect the state of press freedom in the country. Journalists there face violations such as arrest, prosecution, broad charges, unfair trials, and imprisonment as a result of their work.
In October 2022, for instance, journalist Belkacem Houam was sentenced to one year in prison with two months effective immediately, and a fine of 100,000 Algerian dinars (approximately 700 euros), as a result of an article he wrote on the issue of exporting Algerian dates to France in the Echorouk El Yawmi newspaper; he was accused of “publishing and promoting false news”. Following Houam’s imprisonment, the public press ceased printing the newspaper under the pretext of outstanding debts—after only a few weeks.
Euro-Med Monitor has documented approximately 25 cases of journalists imprisoned in Algerian prisons over the last decade, and dozens continue to face arrests, temporary detentions, and threats of arrest as a result of their work. Journalists in Algeria face additional restrictions when working for foreign press and media agencies, as they must obtain annual accreditations from Algerian authorities. In many cases, failure to renew their accreditations in time prevents journalists from covering events, and obstructs their work for weeks or months at a time. Algerian newspapers and their employees face similar challenges that hamper their own work and, in dozens of cases, result in the closure or suspension of the targeted newspaper and dismissal of dozens of journalists and media workers.
Due to authorities’ monopoly on the advertising market, Algerian newspapers saw a decline in state financial support provided by government advertising, especially since the private sector only advertises for the country’s best-selling newspapers, resulting in the closure of tens of newspapers over the last five years. Authorities impose penalties and exert pressure behind the scenes on papers that criticise their policies or publish reports that do not comply with government directives, by freezing financial accounts and through prosecutions related to debts and taxes imposed on them. The National Agency for the Management of Public Advertisement and Subscriptions will also boycott these newspapers.
In April 2022, for example, the Algerian French-language newspaper Liberté ceased publication after its owner, businessman Yasad Rebrab, decided to shut it down. The decision came about two months after Algerian Minister of Communication Mohamed Bouslimani attacked the Liberté and El Watan newspapers without naming them explicitly.
Journalists in Saudi Arabia are subject to strict control over their work, as they are unable to issue press or media reports or express views critical of government policies without facing prosecution and repression. This applies not only to journalists in the Kingdom, but also to Saudi journalists who live and work outside of it.
The Saudi media, including satellite channels and printed newspapers, is completely controlled by the state, and no independent media organisations are operating within the Kingdom. Even those not directly owned by the state follow the vision, policies, and controls established by government institutions, and are subject to direct and daily censorship by the Ministry of Information.
Since 2012, Euro-Med Monitor has documented the killing of one Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. To this day, those responsible for Khashoggi’s killing have not been held accountable, despite the trials that took place in both Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The killers were not punished or fully sentenced.
Although the killing of Khashoggi is the only documented incident in recent years, this does not accurately reflect the extent of violations against journalists both inside and outside of Saudi Arabia, nor does it imply that Saudi authorities respect press freedom. Tens of journalists have been arrested, detained, and prosecuted for their work over the past decade. At least 25 Saudi and non-Saudi journalists are still imprisoned in Saudi Arabia today.
For instance, Yemeni journalist Ali Abu Lahoum is facing a 15-year prison sentence in Saudi Arabia for posting tweets on his personal Twitter account that authorities deemed to be promoting disbelief in Islam. Yemeni journalist Marwan al-Muraisy has also been detained without clear charge since 2018, and Saudi journalist Turki al-Jasser has been detained since 2018. Forcibly disappeared in Saudi prisons, it was 2020 when al-Jasser was finally allowed to contact people close to him from within prison; he is facing charges related to “state security” for operating an anonymous Twitter account.
Saudi law allows for the suspension of work or imprisonment of journalists who express any criticism that is deemed to be harmful to the Islamic religion, the state, or the country’s king. The authorities’ approach to press freedom is reflected in the legal framework governing journalistic work, which includes a large number of restrictions and broad texts that authorities typically use to prosecute journalists. Authorities also use the Anti-Cyber Crime Law, the Counter-Terrorism Law, and the Law on Combating the Financing of Terrorism, as well as other policies and limitations imposed by the state and its institutions on journalists and media organisations.
In the last decade, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has emerged as one of the most oppressive countries in the MENA region in terms of freedom of expression and media freedom. Independent media cannot operate freely on UAE soil, and journalists and media workers are not permitted to criticise or oppose the authorities in any way, as any violation carries penalties such as imprisonment, deportation, and a ban from entering the country.
The majority of the media in UAE is owned by the state, either directly or through private media groups that are completely loyal to the government. Although the country’s constitution guarantees freedom of expression and publication, authorities there have enacted several laws, such as the cybercrime law, to limit press freedom, criminalise criticism of the ruling family, and suppress any opposing or critical point of view, as well as monitor the content of visual, audio, and electronic media to ensure complete control over the media narrative.
Journalists may be arbitrarily detained, or specifically accused of defamation, insulting the state, or publishing false information if they attempt to publish material that does not conform to the general trends of the state. In December 2015, Jordanian journalist Tayseer Najjar was arrested in the UAE on charges of insulting national symbols through online publications. He was released after about three years and was discovered to have contracted several diseases during his detention; two years later Najjar died.
In April 2018, Emirati security detained Iraqi-American journalist Zaid Benjamin at Dubai International airport after he had been in the country for several days. After confiscating his phone, they transferred him to Abu Dhabi for investigation. Benjamin was informed that he was being held on the grounds of insulting the head of state and that the case included a two-year prison sentence in absentia. When he denied the allegations and confirmed that he had not been informed in advance, the interrogators questioned him about the Gulf crisis and his relationship with Qatar, and asked him not to work there; he was then released.
In June 2022, reports indicated the closure of the Emirati online newspaper Alroeya, as well as the layoff of 60 of its journalists and employees, due to a report published on the impact of the Russian-Ukrainian war on the UAE’s low-income population.
Prior to the massive popular protests in Bahrain in 2011, the media there had a thin margin of freedom in covering domestic economic and social issues. However, following the protests and authorities’ widespread campaign of repression and persecution against opinion holders, this margin has thinned to almost nothing. Authorities have gained complete control of all media, whether directly or through people and companies close to the government, including TV channels, radio stations, print newspapers, and websites. Independent journalists and dissidents face arbitrary detention, deportation, banishment or citizenship revocation, and judicial and security prosecution.
Bahraini authorities follow a systematic policy of arresting opposition journalists and burdening them with false charges to justify their detention and limit their freedoms. Authorities are currently holding approximately 10 journalists on broad and general charges unrelated to their journalistic work, but the apparent focus of the investigations has been on the true reason for their detention, which is their journalistic activity. For instance, in June 2018, security authorities arrested photojournalist Mohammed Qambar for his role in photographing anti-authority protests in 2011 and beyond. Qambar was convicted, however, on charges including “causing chaos” and “joining a terrorist organisation”, and received prison sentences totalling approximately 100 years.
In June 2017, Bahraini authorities announced the indefinite suspension of Al-Wasat, the Kingdom’s last independent media outlet, citing the newspaper’s publication as a cause of “division in society” and claiming it “affects the Kingdom of Bahrain’s relations with other countries”. As a result, approximately 160 journalists and media workers were laid off, and the country’s last remaining independent press forum was closed.
The authorities’ decision to shut down the newspaper violated relevant local laws in a manner similar to their various forms of attacks on freedom of opinion and expression. Article 28 of the Bahraini Press Law of 2002 states that it is not permissible to close or suspend any newspaper without a judicial order—which is exactly what happened in the case of Al-Wasat.
The Bahraini government established “The General Directorate of Anti-corruption and Economic and Electronic Security” within the Ministry of Interior departments more than 10 years ago, allegedly to combat cybercrime, child pornography, hacking programmes, and online fraud. However, the government has used it to restrict freedom of expression, opinion, and the press to a large extent, as dozens of journalists and activists were prosecuted for expressing their views on social media, and some were imprisoned for years.
Because of the complex restrictions on journalistic freedom and the persecution of journalists in Bahrain, independent journalistic work in the Kingdom has become impossible, with journalists practising self-censorship to avoid prosecution and imprisonment.
Most media outlets in the Sultanate of Oman are controlled by the authorities, either directly or indirectly, through vaguely defined policies used to ensure that individuals and media organisations do not criticise authorities or discuss issues in ways that are inconsistent with the country’s internal and external policies.
As their sources rely on government data and information, the coverage of local media outlets in Oman focuses on highlighting government accomplishments and projecting a positive image of the country’s situation, and coverage is rarely independent or contrary to the government’s political goals. To practice journalism, media outlets and journalists are required by authorities to obtain a permit from the Ministry of Information.
Journalists face several constraints that limit their ability to report on events independently or critically, as they are prohibited, according to the Omani Printing and Publishing Law, from publishing “anything that explicitly or implicitly defames the person of his Majesty the Sultan or members of the Royal Family, by speech or images. It is also prohibited to incite (rebellion) against the system of government in the Sultanate or abuse it or disrupt the public order”. Similarly, the law prohibits publishing content that could harm public morals or the integrity of the state, security and military agencies, or the local currency—all of which are broad instructions that can be used arbitrarily to silence critical voices.
Furthermore, the Omani Penal Law imposes arbitrary penalties which openly violate the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of publication and expression, affecting journalists and opinion makers. Articles 97, 102, and 108 of the law provide for prison sentences of up to 10 years for engaging in activities directly related to direct journalistic work that criticisises any internal or external authorities’ policies.
Journalist Mukhtar al-Hinai was referred to the Omani judiciary in May 2022 for publishing a tweet, which he deleted shortly after publication, on his personal Twitter account regarding a case of financial and administrative corruption in an Omani ministry. As a result of the case, he was barred from travelling and charged with violating Article 249 of the Penal Code, which criminalises publishing information concerning cases the court prohibits publication of information about; al-Hinai was later found not guilty.
Journalists and media outlets in Kuwait have more freedom than in other Arab Gulf countries. there is an apparent diversity in the media’s political orientations and ability to deal with sensitive issues such as corruption. The press cannot, however, criticise the country’s emir or members of the ruling family, and are keen to support the authorities’ internal and external policies in order to avoid security or judicial prosecution. While the Kuwaiti constitution guarantees the freedom of the press, printing, and publication, some laws restrict their exercise under broad terms that can be used arbitrarily to silence critics.
Article 21 of Law No. (3) for the Year 2006 On Press and Publications states that “It shall be prohibited to publish anything that would [insult] the public morals or [instigate] to violate the public order”, “[influence] the value of the national currency”, and “[cause] harm to the relationships between Kuwait and other Arab or friendly countries”. Kuwaiti officials use such laws to file complaints and lawsuits against journalists and take away their legitimate right to write and publish.
In 2015, authorities detained Kuwait’s former Minister of Information Saad Bin Tefla AlAjmi while he was leaving Kuwait International Airport, because of an article he had published in an online newspaper he owned. The article was about the “misuse of state funds” and criticised the then-Minister of Trade and Industry, Anas Saleh, who then filed the lawsuit against AlAjmi. That same year, the country’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry withdrew the commercial license of the Kuwait Media Group company—which owned the newspaper Al-Watan and certain TV channels and was known for its criticism of the government—citing financial insolvency as the reason. However, the operators of the newspaper and TV channels said that the reasons were purely political.
Although some journalists and media outlets in Kuwait have a reasonable degree of independence and freedom, legal constraints limit their ability to cover all public issues, particularly those concerning political affairs.
Qatar’s censorship system leaves little room for journalists and media outlets to operate freely, as the majority of media organisations publicly support the Qatari position regarding the country’s internal and external affairs. In the case of electronic media, if members of the press publish content that contradicts authorities’ positions, they are usually prosecuted, blocked, or banned as per the 2014 Cybercrime Prevention Law, which the Qatari authorities updated in 2020. The law imposes restrictions on journalistic work, such as the criminalisation of publishing “false news” online.
Although press freedom in Qatar has improved in recent years, with the country ranking 119th in Reporters Without Borders’ 2022 World Press Freedom Index (up from 128th in 2021). However, journalists, including foreigners, face several constraints in their work, particularly if they attempt to publish information about human rights violations in the country, such as the conditions of migrant workers and the areas in which they live.
In November 2021, Qatari security forces arrested two Norwegian journalists, Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani, and held them for 36 hours on the grounds of attempting to cover the conditions of migrant workers in the country. Ekeland and Ghorbani were charged with trespassing on private property and filming without permission, and security forces deleted the footage they had shot.
Jordanian authorities control the majority of the country’s media through a variety of financial and administrative means, as well as by means of intimidation. Heavy fines are imposed on journalists, newspapers, and agencies that publish information or opinions contrary to the Kingdom’s directives and policies; quotas allocated to the press are also cut off in such cases.
Authorities also interfere with the appointment of editors-in-chief of newspapers and media outlets, as well as impose high fees on media agencies, such as broadcasting and event coverage fees. Furthermore, journalists in Jordan face arrest, detention, and trial as a result of their work. As a result, the majority of the country’s media outlets and journalists practise self-censorship to avoid harassment and prosecution under the Anti-Terrorism Law, the Press and Publication Law, and the Cybercrime Law.
In March 2022, Jordanian authorities prosecuted six journalists for their work, including Ahmed al-Zoubi, Taghreed Risheq, and Daoud Kuttab, as well as three investigative journalists of various nationalities who preferred not to reveal their names to Reporters Without Borders. The House of Representatives also approved amendments to the draft law of the Penal Code in April 2022, including stiffening the penalties for those who violate Article 225 of the Penal Code—related to information about investigations or trials that the court prevents from being published—to three months in prison, instead of a fine of 5-15 Jordanian dinars (about 7-21 euros). In addition, the penalty for insulting religious rituals or beliefs was increased to include imprisonment for no less than four months and no more than two years, plus a fine of 500 Jordanian dinars (roughly 713 euros).
Under the 2015 Cybercrime Law, Jordanian authorities have blocked dozens of websites, including journalistic ones, over the last decade.
 “Whoever challenges, publicly or through publication, the rights of the Sultan, His prerogatives, or disgraces His person, shall be punished by imprisonment for a period no less than 3 (three) years and not exceeding 7 (seven) years”.
 “Whoever publicly commits a challenge to the rights of the head of a foreign state during his presence in the territory of the State, or a representative of a foreign state accredited by the State, or disgraces either of their persons shall be punished by imprisonment for a period no less than (3) three months and not exceeding (3) three years”.
 “Whoever promotes religious and sectarian tensions or commotions, prompts the feeling of hatred, detestation, or division between the population of the State, or incites it, shall be punished by imprisonment for a period no less than (3) three years and not exceeding (10) ten years.
Whoever holds a meeting, symposium, or conference relating to the objectives stipulated in the preceding Paragraph, or knowingly participates in any of them, shall be punished by the same punishment.
It is deemed an aggravating circumstance if the crime is committed in a place of worship, an official estate, or a public venue or place, or if committed by a public official during, or as a result of, performing his job, or by a person of religious capacity or one assigned to such capacity”.