On World Press Freedom Day

ACJ: The decline in the index of freedom of journalism in conflict areas is a worrying matter that requires serious action
  • 02/05/2024

    Michigan - The American Center for Justice (ACJ) stated that the disturbing violations, threats, and attacks journalists are subjected to in conflict zones, especially Middle Eastern countries, require a serious and responsible stance, stressing that the lack of accountability against the perpetrators of these violations encouraged them to continue committing their violations.

    Although the UNESCO considers May 3 of each year “an opportunity to remind governments of the need to respect their commitment to freedom of the press, and a day for reflection among media professionals on issues of press freedom and professional ethics," this occasion passes at a difficult and sensitive time for journalists and workers in the media sector, especially in the Middle East who are subjected to serious and unprecedented attacks.

    The ACJ notes that it is still monitoring a worrying escalation in violations in confluct-affected areas, which has contributed to violating the rights of journalists, especially those working in: the Palestinian territories, Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Yemen, where journalists are subjected to collective and individual targeting, while many of them were killed due to their commitment to reporting the truth.

    In the Palestinian territories, specifically the Gaza Strip, journalists are subjected to the largest deliberate targeting and killing in modern history. From October 7 to this day, Israel has killed more than 130 journalists, in addition to arresting 10 journalists, which makes this number the highest in terms of targeting journalists throughout the history of wars and conflicts, as 69 journalists were killed during World War II. 

    ACJ stated that the Israeli attacks were not limited to journalists in the field, but rather extended to the targeting of their family members in their homes. Wael Al Dahdouh, director of Al Jazeera’s Gaza bureau, received live news, while covering the ongoing bombing of the Gaza Strip on October 25, 2023, of the killing of his wife, children, and a number of his family members in an Israeli air strike, following the occupation forces' bombing of their house in the Nuseirat camp in central Gaza, which is the house they took refuge in after the Israeli occupation forces called on civilians to move towards the southern Gaza Strip. 

    The list of crimes expanded to include, but not limited to, targeting the home of “Mohamed Abu Hatab,” a Palestinian television correspondent, who was killed along with 11 members of his family. There is also Wafa Agency journalist Mohamed Abu Hasira, who was killed along with more than forty members of his family, and the list goes on.

    As for Syria, the Syrian Network for Human Rights reported today in a comprehensive report on the most notable violations against media professionals and media workers and their families. It said that it documented the killing of 715 journalists and media workers since March 2011 at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, including 52 due to torture. The agency indicated that that violations against journalists and freedom of opinion and expression continued since the outbreak of the popular movement in Syria about 13 years ago. 

    In Iraq, journalists not only face the risk of arbitrary detention as a result of deteriorating field conditions, but rather they face the risk of being kidnapped and forcibly disappeared by state security forces or state-sponsored militias. For example, Tawfiq Al-Tamimi was kidnapped in 2020 after posting on Facebook to support local protests and criticize the Iraqi government, while his whereabouts remain unknown to this day. Likewise, journalist Bassem Al-Zaaq was abducted in broad daylight while broadcasting live about the Iraqi protests in October 2021, and he also remains missing.

    As for Sudan, the suffering of Sudanese journalists continues due to the ongoing war between the Sudanese forces and the Rapid Forces, which began in mid-April 2023. Journalistic work has become more like a risk, and journalists expose themselves to death and pays the price with their life in order to search for information and document the truth. Figures issued by the Sudanese Journalists Syndicate in a report on media freedoms until the end of 2023 showed an escalation in violations against journalists, which reached 249 violation cases. The number of journalists killed reached 4, while 23 threatening incidents were monitored, 17 shootings, 93 break-ins and looting of journalists’ homes. The number of cases of detention reached 28 and arrests 18, in addition to 25 cases of beatings and looting, while cases of attacks on institutions reached 22 cases, two cases of forced disappearance, and the same number of travel bans.

    In Yemen, the American Center for Justice monitored about 17 violations affecting media freedoms during the first three months of this year. The center continued that the Houthi group committed 5 violations against journalists during the first quarter, making it equal to the legitimate government, which also committed 5 violations, then the Southern Transitional Council with 3 cases. The ACJ stated that it had previously documented cases of liquidation and killing of journalists in Yemen, which amounted to 45 cases between 2014 and 2022. The Center based the information it collected on what the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate stated - at the time - about the Houthi group’s responsibility for killing 17 of their journalists. 

    On the other hand, air strikes carried out by the Arab coalition killed 14 journalists. Also, 12 cases of killing of journalists were recorded against unknown persons, while terrorist groups killed two journalists. In the same period, cases of targeting journalists, their forced disappearance, arbitrary arrest and detention, and torture exceeded 1,465 cases. Nearly 150 media outlets and external media offices were closed, most of them in areas controlled by the Houthi group, because journalistic and media work was there before the group took control of them.

    Article 79 of the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 stipulates the following: “1. Journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians. 2.They shall be protected as such under the Conventions and this Protocol." 

    The ACJ calls on the Security Council and the international community to make clear efforts to end conflicts, especially the Palestinian territories, Syria, Sudan and Yemen. It also calls for serious action to stop the violations practiced by the parties violating the rights of journalists, especially murder and direct threats against journalists, and to ensure the immediate release of all arbitrarily detained journalists and media workers, and to reveal the fate of those forcibly disappeared, as well as supporting international legal prosecution efforts against all parties that committed these violations.