Confirmed downward trends of "Press Freedom" in the MENA region



 
At first glance, the 2010 index’s higher score as compared to that of 2009 seems to translate into gains. However, it is important to emphasise how troubling the situation had been in 2009. In that regard, 2010 actually spells out a return to the pre-existing equilibrium, with no sign of significant progress in these countries.
 
World Press Freedom Day in the Arab world. © Adam


Morocco’s drop (-8 places) reflects the authorities’ tension over issues relating to press freedom, evident since early 2009. The sentencing of a journalist to one year in prison without possibility of parole (he will serve eight months), the arbitrary closing down of a newspaper, the financial ruin of another newspaper, orchestrated by the authorities, etc. – all practices which explain Morocco’s fall in the Index rankings.


Tunisia’s score was (-10), falling in position from 154th to 164rd (Tunisia had already lost 9 places between 2008 and 2009). The country is continuing to drop into the Index’s lower rankings because of its policy of systematic repression enforced by government leaders in Tunis against any person who expresses an idea contrary to that of the regime. The passage of the Amendment to Article 61B of the Penal Code is especially troubling in that it tends to criminalise any contact with foreign organisations which might ultimately harm Tunisia’s economic interests.


There is an identical situation in Syria (-8) and Yemen (-3), where press freedom is fast shrinking away. Arbitrary detentions are still routine, as is the use of torture.


For its part, Iran held its position at the bottom of the Index. The crackdown on journalists and netizens which occurred just after the disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009 only strengthened in 2010.


Only a relative improvement in some countries


Such is the case of Israel (extra-territorial) which “won” 18 places in the index, passing from the 150th to the 132nd place. The year 2010 was not exempt from press freedom violations on the part of the Israeli Army, as evidenced by the cases of foreign journalists arrested on the flotilla in May 2010, or the Palestinian journalists who are regularly targeted by Tsahal soldiers’ bullets. Or the skirmish in South Lebanon last August, during which a Lebanese journalist was killed. However, 2010 is incommensurate with 2009, in the early days of which "Operation Cast Lead" took place: six journalists died, two of them while doing their jobs, and at least three buildings sheltering media professionals were targeted by gunfire.


The Palestinian Territories had similar results, rising 11 places in the 2010 index (now 150th instead of 161st). The violations committed in the year just ended are simply “less serious” than in 2009, even if the journalists and media professionals are still paying the price for the open hostility between the Hamas and the Fatah.


In Algeria, the number of legal proceedings instituted against journalists has noticeably declined, which explains its gain of 8 places in the Index. Between 2008 and 2009, the country had dropped 20 places due to the increased number of legal proceedings.


Iraq climbed 15 places (now 130th), because safety conditions for journalists improved substantially in the country, despite the fact that three had died between 1 September 2009 and 31 August 2010 – two of whom were murdered. Since then, three deaths have occurred in less than one month. The withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq at the end of August necessarily marks the start of a new era. The security of citizens, and particularly of journalists, should not be made to suffer for it.


Drops in Persian Gulf


Bahraini’s ranking in the Index dropped from 119th to 144th place, which can be explained by the growing number of imprisonments and trials, notably against bloggers and netizens.


Another noteworthy drop was that of Kuwait, which fell 27 places, from the 60th to the 87th position, mainly because of the Kuwaiti authorities’ harsh treatment of lawyer and blogger Mohammed Abdel Qader Al-Jassem, who has been jailed twice following accusations lodged by prominent figures with close ties to the regime. This contradicts the authorities stated desire to project an image of being the leading democracy of the Persian Gulf.

 

Press Freedom Index 2010