Both Lebanon and Kuwait were among the poorest performing countries in terms of press freedom, according to a new media report released today by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI). The two countries, which were once leading the region, have now fallen the most places on the index, said AHRI director Gamal Eid, who unveiled the report in Beirut today.
In Lebanon, where bloggers and journalists have been interrogated by police and forced to sign forms vowing not to criticize companies and politicians, the government has failed to protect free expression, the report explained. It also noted that the government has failed to improve internet speeds, which despite some improvements remain among the slowest in the world, a further obstacle to free expression.
In Kuwait the situation is more grim with nearly 300 criminal cases brought against citizens for tweets–160 of those cases were related to tweets criticizing the Emir. “This number is deemed a new Arab record, exceeding the previous one set by Libyan leader Qaddafi” with 45 defamation cases over 42 years, the report said.
“Kuwait is the first country in the world to bring a legal case over a tweet,” Eid said.
Meanwhile in the UAE, 94 persons have been charged or jailed for criticizing the government and royal family. In Saudi Arabia, tens of thousands of sites have been blocked along with bloggers jailed or beaten.
You can read the report in English or Arabic at this link.
The report was launched in Beirut today in association with the Maharat Foundation, which helped author the Lebanon section. There were many local TV stations in attendance, but one participant asked if any of them would cover this issue seriously, with much of the Lebanese media owned by politicians who have failed to champion press freedom.
Maharat and ANHRI are launching a campaign to support those persecuted by governments in the Arab world called “Prisoners of Conscience”