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Concern Voiced About Media Repression in Middle East

  • Brian Padden

FILE - Egyptian riot police.

FILE - Egyptian riot police.

Advocates of press freedom are concerned about recent moves by some governments to arrest journalists and restrict Internet access to their citizens. Freedom House is a Washington-based group that supports democracy and free speech activists. The group says these restrictions on freedom of expression undermine both human rights and the foundation of democratic societies.

Charles Dunne is director of Middle East and North Africa programs at Freedom House. He says reports that journalists in Egypt are being harassed and arrested and that a proposed law in Turkey will increase restrictions on Internet access are an alarming turn toward repression in the Middle East and other countries where democracy is not firmly established.

“Our annual Freedom of the World Report that was released in January did find a trend of authoritarian pushback, certainly in many Arab spring countries, but elsewhere in repressive countries, focusing not only on journalists but on bloggers, even Tweeters in many cases. So this is something that is very concerning to us," said Dunne.

The proposed law to restrict Internet access in Turkey has sparked public protests. The government says the new restrictions are to protect people’s privacy, but Turkish free speech advocate Selin Kaledelen says the purpose is to protect government officials from media scrutiny.

“So for me, it's dictatorship of the authorities in terms of law. It's a censorship law, and we don't recognize it," said Kaledelen.

In Egypt, the arrest of journalists with Al Jazeera on charges of aiding a terrorist group has been condemned by UN Human Rights spokesman Rupert Colville.

“It is extraordinary to find this being put into the kind of terrorist dialogue that journalists are supporting terrorists. This is really an alarming development and we hope it changes very quickly," said Colville.

U.S. State Department Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki says the U.S. government is also troubled by reports of journalists being arrested in Egypt.

“Any journalist, regardless of affiliation, must not be targets of violence, intimidation or politicized legal action. They must be protected and permitted to freely do their jobs in Egypt," said Psaki.

She said the United States government advocates freedom of the media and freedom of the press as something that should be respected and valued.

Freedom House's Dunne says freedom of expression is the cornerstone of democracy, one that empowers people to make informed decisions.

“If people are not free to express themselves through journalism or these other media it has a super chilling effect on free speech, on people’s willingness to involve themselves in politics," he said.

Dunne says while news reports, blogs and social media helped fuel the uprisings of the Arab Spring, suppressing the media will not eliminate the conditions causing social unrest.
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