Yemeni newspaper’s lawyer threatened

The lawyer of the Yemen Observer was threatened by extremists while he defended his client for publishing the Danish cartoons of Prophet Muhammad:

Two young bearded men threatened the defense lawyer of Yemen Observer in the court room that they would have killed him if they have power.

Khalid Al-Anesi, who defends Mohammed Al-Asaadi, editor-in-chief of the Yemen Observer, in the south east of the capital, was alerted minutes before the death threat by a close friend, as he described him.

Abdullah Al-Farza’e, who was introduced later as an Imam of a mosque, attended the hearings on purpose which is just to alert Al-Anesi of plans to attack him by young radicals. “Al-Farza’e heard about the plan and moved to the court to warn me,” Al-Anesi said. “I trust him.”

The two young men, who failed to escape from the court, are detained for investigation. They came with a large group of long-bearded people who fill the small courtroom, where the judge looks into the case filed by the general prosecutor for press and publication against Yemen Observer and its editor for republishing fragments of the Danish cartoons with a huge X over them last February.

The trial against the Yemen Observer was brought by individuals who thought the paper was attacking the prophet, even though it had only published pictures of the cartoons covered up and alongside a critical article.

CPJ on the state of Saudi media

The Committee to Protect Journalists has issued a rare report on the state of the Saudi press:

Although newspapers are privately owned, the state exerts tremendous influence over what is reported. The government approves the appointments of editors-in-chief, a process that journalists say is done behind closed doors with the oversight of Prince Nayef bin Abdel Aziz, the powerful interior minister. In practice, though not by law, newspapers require the financial or political backing of a member of the royal family. Unlike in other parts of the region, “opposition journalism” simply doesn’t exist in Saudi Arabia. While some columnists have criticized low-level ministers, news coverage is typically devoid of anything reflecting negatively on the royal family, high-ranking officials, and the country’s religious clerics and institutions.

Top editors and most journalists view themselves as defenders of the ruling Al-Saud family, and government officials ensure allegiance by applying behind-the-scenes pressure—issuing directions on sensitive stories, banning coverage of certain topics, and taking punitive actions against journalists. Over the past decade, CPJ research shows, dozens of editors, writers, academics, and other media critics have been suspended, dismissed from their jobs, or banned from appearing in the Saudi press. The actions came by government order, the intervention of religious leaders, or at the initiative of editors. Other journalists have faced detention, questioning by security authorities, and travel bans.

The report goes on to describe how writers get blacklisted, the flux and reflux of censorship, the intervention of religious authorities, and more. This type of information is rare because, while easier than before, investigative reporting is still quite tough in Sadist Arabia.

Via Tatteh Aardvark, who has a summary of the report’s findings.

The story behind Rose Al Youssef

Praktike points out that Rose Al Youssef, a recently started pro-government daily, is trying to tarnish Kifaya leader George Ishak’s reputation by alleging he met with Israelis during a conference last April.

Al-Masry Al-Youm reported yesterday on Ishaq’s denial that he met with Israelis at the Fourth Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy in Istanbul in April, a charge made by state paper (and emerging tool of Gamal Mubarak) Rosa al-Yousef. Even worse than (gasp) being in the same huge event as “the enemy,” Ishaq attended an event funded by foreigners.

I’d like to expand a little bit on Rose Al Youssef’s role on the Egyptian media scene since it launched less than a year ago. Rose Al Youssef was originally a magazine started in the 1930s by the actress, socialite and general sensation Rose Al Youssef, a woman of Syrian origin.

Continue reading The story behind Rose Al Youssef

Ten years ago: the Abu Salim massacre

HRW, which has recently gotten unprecedented access into Libya, is calling for full disclosure on the 1996 massacre that took place at the Abu Salim prison:

In the summer of 1996, stories began to filter out of Libya about a mass killing in Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison. The details remained scarce, and the government initially denied that an incident had taken place. Libyan groups outside the country said up to 1,200 prisoners had died.

In 2001 and 2002, Libyan authorities began to inform some families with a relative in Abu Salim that their family-member had died, although they did not provide the body or details on the cause of death. In April 2004 Libyan leader Mu`ammar al-Qadhafi publicly acknowledged that killings had taken place in Abu Salim, and said that prisoners’ families have the right to know what took place.

Read the rest for an account of HRW’s investigation and links to Libyan opposition groups.

Miles on Jazeera, AJI

Hugh Miles, who wrote a book on Al Jazeera, has a “Think Again” piece in Foreign Policy debunking various myths about the channel. Nothing much new in it, but it’s a good overview of the facts many get wrong.

One interesting issue is about Al Jazeera International, the English-language channel that should launch later this year. Hugh says:

The network’s coverage will “follow the sun” throughout the day, airing from Kuala Lumpur for 4 hours, Doha for 11 hours, London for 5, and Washington for the remaining 4.

I believe that’s a different schedule than originally intended, since AJI wanted to split its airtime evenly between its various headquarters. I’ve been hearing through the grapevine that there’s trouble brewing at AJI’s top management, with the Emir of Qatar intervening personally to make sure Doha has more airtime. Apparently it hadn’t been made clear to him that the idea was to split airtime between each region, and now, a few months before they’re supposed to launch, AJI has to look for extra staff in Doha to be able to handle a 12-hour or longer shift. He is reportedly very intent on boosting Qatar’s image through AJI and wants Doha to dominate. Well, it’s his money… On the upside, if you’re looking for a job in the Gulf, AJI is still hiring!

The entire episode does make you wonder about Nigel Parsons’ management of the whole thing, though.

Incidentally, I had a piece about AJI in the recent issue of TBS, looking at how it’s perceived in the States and the still unsolved mystery of what it’s “soul” will be like — CNN or the original Arabic channel.

NYT on Algeria

Unfortunate beginning to this NYT story on Algeria:

ALGIERS — In the 1990’s, Algeria was the Iraq of the Arab world, ripping out its own heart in a bloodbath that pitted a rising Islamist movement against military death squads, killing more than 100,000 people. It was a model of hell on earth.

Er… in the 1990s, Iraq was the Iraq of the Arab world.

Anyway, it’s good that the august newspaper of record is bringing attention to the problems with the general amnesty the Algerian government has granted (it would have been ever better if they mentioned that discussing the identity of the perpetrators of the civil war’s crimes is now illegal), but isn’t it a little bit late? The charter for national reconciliation, as the Algerian government calls its attempt to bury the past, went through in February. At the time I quoted Le Monde:

The text adopted by the government puts them [security personnel] beyond the reach of legal pursuits, even if infractions have been committed. They have “shown proof of patriotism,” and “no lawsuit can be made, individually or collectively,” against them. “Any denunciation or complaint regarding [security personnel] will not be accepted,” the documents adds, while adding that “any declaration, written or otherwise, using or instrumentalizing the wounds of national tragedy to attack national institutions, weaken the state, damage the honor its agents… or to sully the image of Algeria internationally” will be sanctioned.

The lack of coverage of the Maghreb in major US newspapers is really quite astounding.

Reader survey: Google’s Israel ads

For a while now, I’ve been somewhat uneasy about the presence of pro-Israel ads on this site. I don’t choose them, the near-sentient megacomputer at Google does. (In the future, it will send a robot back in time to kill me.) While I don’t think many of this site’s readers want to send flowers to Israel or pizzas to IDF soldiers, I keep receiving emails complaining about this and that ad. I’ve even gotten in touch with Google minions and asked if there’s any way to filter these ads. They said that basically no — although the adsense program does allow you to specifically filter certain ad sites, but you have to know the site URL to block it. While I think that surely the technology to run keyword filters can’t be that difficult for a company like Google, I’m more or less stuck with it.

It’s not like I make much money from the ads anyway (although it covers hosting and a little more) — especially compared to the money I lose by blogging rather than working — so I could just take down the ads. Or someone can suggest a better ad service than Google’s. My question to readers is, how much do you really care? My feeling about it is that a pro-Israel ad on this site amounts to a waste of money for the advertisers — money that they won’t be spending on perpetuating the occupation of Palestine. So I’m inclined to just ignore the ads, much as I do on any other website. I’ve adopted this reasoning the hard way: a few years ago, I was a regular reader and occasional contributor to Eric Alterman’s blog, Altercation. I once emailed Alterman about the conservative ads that appeared on his blog (for instance plugging Ann Coulter’s new book) and he tersely answered in a one-line email:

Grow up. They’re wasting their money.

He later explained why exactly this was a waste in a post. I think he is right.

If you really care about this, leave a comment and let me know what you think.

How to pass your exams in Egypt

Brian Whitaker posted on the Guardian’s blog an article on Alaa Farag Megahed, the high school student who failed her exam because of a composition she wrote critical of Bush.

How to pass your exams in Egypt
Brian Whitaker, June 27, 2006 11:13 AM
“Blessed with abundant supplies of water, fertile soil and a flourishing tourism sector, Egypt has fewer economic problems than most countries in the Middle East. Under the wise leadership of President Hosni Mubarak, its prosperity has increased beyond all expectation …”
Yes, I know, it’s rubbish. But if you’re an Egyptian student and happen to get an exam question on the economic problems facing your country, this would probably be a good way to start. I mean, you do want to pass, don’t you?
According to several reports in the Arabic media, 15-year-old Alaa Farag Megahed, from a girls’ secondary school in the Nile delta, got it all wrong. The examiner marking the papers didn’t like her essay and passed it to his boss, who passed it to the ministry of education. (Full article)

Also, the Arab Press Freedom Watch issued statement calling for a “stand against the killing of free thinking in Egyptian schools.”