Jordanian King Abdullah II and Queen Rania
Insecure about waves of the Arab Spring and ISIS fandom reaching Jordan, its king has tightened his grip on journalists. There’s now a law in Jordan allowing the government to shut down any website it wants — and it’s been put to use on hundreds of sites, including many news outlets.
This summer, Jordanian security raided the Al-Abasiya TV station in Amman and arrested more than a dozen staffers. The year before, journalists covering Jordanian elections reportedly “faced many difficulties to report because of interference by security forces” and a Palestinian-Jordanian reporter for the Jerusalem Post was sentenced to 15 years of jail with hard labor. (Luckily, he sought asylum first.)
Jordan is now ranked 153rd out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index, below Libya and Chad.
(Quick anecdote: When I traveled to Jordan to cover the Syrian refugee crisis for the Jewish Journal, the country’s press officials said I couldn’t enter the Zaatari refugee camp because my newspaper was Jewish. After I essentially threw a tantrum in the lobby, they finally let me into Zaatari. However, Jordanian police followed me everywhere, called me “Mossad,” curbed my questioning and interrupted whenever a Syrian said something that might make them look bad.)
As for Queen Rania, well, she’s never been one to miss a photo op.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko
Five journalists and two media workers died in Ukraine this year. That wasn’t entirely President Poroshenko’s fault; warring Ukrainian factions and an invading foreign army made for violent chaos in which journalist attacks and kidnappings could thrive. (Aka, blame Putin.) But the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that since Ukraine’s former president was ousted in May, Poroshenko has done little to improve the situation. Although the new administration was “elected after pledging allegiance to democratic ideals,” says the CPJ, they’ve offered no new protection for journalists and have imposed new “military escort” rules for battle zones. They’ve also detained and expelled some journalists themselves, when coverage wasn’t going their way. “We urge the authorities to support journalists,” says CPJ. “They could start with bringing to justice those who ordered and executed assaults against the press corps in Ukraine a year ago.” Instead, they’re supporting Charlie Hebdo.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Press freedoms inside Israel proper are generally alive and well, save a phone tap or two. But poke one toe outside the green line with Palestine (or, um, live there), and your rights instantly evaporate. Journalists covering protests in the West Bank are constantly injured or detained, and seven Palestinian reporters were killed in the recent war on Gaza while wearing press vests.
From this year’s World Press Freedom Index blurb on Israel: “Security needs continue to be used as an excuse to limit freedom of information. The Israeli media are able to be outspoken but media located in ‘Israeli territory’ must comply with prior military censorship and gag orders.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
Abbas once threw a Palestinian journalist in prison for comparing his face to that of a French detective on a Syrian TV show (No joke). But more than a hypocrite, Abbas is a man with his own increasingly dire humanitarian crisis to worry about.
Babies in Gaza are literally freezing to death right now. And seeing as Israel and Hamas aren’t doing anything about it, the de facto leader of the Palestinian people needs to step in. Abbas’ cameo at the Charlie Hebdo march sends a message to the world that Palestinian leadership opposes these Islamist terror tactics and wants to be seen as more moderate. But in the eyes of his people, Abbas is just hopping on one more plane. Thus reenforcing the now very public opinion that Abbas loves the UN podium more than historic Palestine.
United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan
A long list of foreign and local journalists in the United Arab Emirates have been jailed throughout the Arab Spring for supposedly slanting their coverage in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood — or even just Tweeting the trials of alleged Brotherhood members. One of these journalists, Egyptian national Anas Fouda, was held “incommunicado” for a month without trial. During this time, he told the CPJ he was blindfolded, chained, interrogated and held in solitary confinement.
Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa
Tunisian government officials are known for puppeteering state media — appointing the heads of all broadcast media while making sure the independents are rubbed out. “Authoritarian methods continue to short-circuit reform attempts and block state media independence,” reads last year’s World Press Freedom Index.
As we speak — and as Tunisian Prime Minister Jomaa marches in Paris — Tunisian blogger Yassine Ayari is behind bars for “defaming the army” in a series of Facebook posts. “Tunisia’s new parliament, elected two months ago, should make it a priority to repeal laws that make defaming state officials and institutions a criminal offense,” says Amnesty International in a statement.
Saudi Arabian Ambassador to France Mohammed Ismail Al-Sheikh
That a Saudi Arabian official would even show his face outside the embassy today is offensive. As we all know, women aren’t allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, and journalists are constantly tracked and jailed for writing about this law. So you can imagine the kind of punishment a writer gets for insulting Islam.
On the same day Saudi Arabian officials condemned the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, they dragged Saudi blogger Raif Badawi from his jail cell, where he is serving a seven-year sentence, and flogged him in the public square. It was the first of 12 floggings he will receive for criticizing the country’s harsh Muslim laws. In one of his last blog posts, Badawi wrote: “Whether we like it or not, we, being a part of humanity, have the same duties that others have as well as the same rights. … Let us all live under the roof of the human civilization.”
Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba
Although he’s not famous for violence against journalists, Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba keeps his country’s media in check by swiftly suspending any outlets who aren’t nice to him. Over the past few years, at least five different newspapers have been suspended for criticism of his regime. One of them, Le Gri-Gri de la Griffe, is — get this — a satirical newspaper accused of “indulging in indecency and vulgarity in most of its publications.” The irony is deafening.
Bahraini Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa
Bahrain is the second largest jailer of journalists, per capita, in the world. (One freelance Bahraini journalist who documented police brutality is now serving a 10-year prison sentence.) There are also widespread reports of torture during jailtime. Among some of Bahrain’s crimes, according to the CPJ:
“Journalists covering opposition protests were harassed, detained, and deported, while some were attacked by opposition protesters who considered them biased. The government arrested at least three bloggers and photographers in the lead-up to a major opposition protest on [August 14, 2013]. A court upheld the acquittal of a policewoman accused of torturing a journalist in 2011. Authorities continued to clamp down on online expression by blocking websites, infiltrating social media accounts, prosecuting citizens who insulted officials, and considering restrictions on Internet-based telecommunications services. Bahraini blogger Ali Abdel Imam, convicted on anti-state charges, was forced to flee into exile after hiding for two years from Bahraini authorities.”
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
This has got to be a sick joke. In 2012 and 2013, Turkey imprisoned more journalists than any other country. And although China took that title in 2014, Turkish officials are quickly catching up with what seems like another TV, radio or newspaper raid and mass arrest every few months.
It’s all very public, too. The Turkish prime minister’s predecessor, now-President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has waged one of the most egomaniacal, borderline psychotic wars on free speech in the democratic world. He once sued a journalist for insulting him on Twitter. Another time, he shut down Twitter entirely. He also shut down YouTube when scandalous videos of him leaked online.
And perhaps most of absurdly of all, given Prime Minister Davutoglu’s spot in the Charlie Hebdo march today: Turkish cartoonist Mehmet Düzenli served three months in prison this year for crticizing Muslim leader Adnan Oktar. He reportedly called Oktar’s preachings “overzealous.”
Jeremy Scahill on how world leaders at Paris march oppose press freedoms: