NEW DELHI, India, April 30th (IPS) – Any time a journalist is threatened by physical and sexual violence, cyber-attack and surveillance, doxxing, public humiliation and damage to her professional and personal credibility, the driving forces are behind misogyny, sexism and abuse of power deeply rooted in these intentions.
These online crimes are often organized, coordinated, or orchestrated. These include state-sponsored “sock puppet networks”, patriotic trolling campaigns, networked gas lights or mobs that trigger hate campaigns.
Malicious online violence attempts to silence female journalists and discredit their reporting has become a growing problem, according to a report by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and UNESCO. “Because of their race, sexual orientation and religion, some women are exposed to even more frequent and life-threatening attacks. Online violence against female journalists is often combined with disinformation and political extremism to damage their personal and professional reputations, ”the report said.
Saudi Arabia: “Hardest and Most Dangerous for Journalists”
Reem AbdellatifReem Abdellatif, a well-known Egyptian-American journalist based in the Netherlands, left the Middle East due to the challenges and abuse she faced as a journalist in Saudi Arabia. Says Reem to me, “I worked with Saudi State TV, which controls narration in the Kingdom and the Middle East. I was under constant pressure to glorify the kingdom’s nonexistent tourism sector, economy and investment scene. I worked in close proximity to the kingdom’s ruling elite, and when trying to address and label festering core issues such as women and human rights, poor tourism infrastructure, diversity, equality, workplace inclusion, bullying and harassment for them, I was wrong and here I was have become a threat.
“Women journalists struggle in this region because we demand accountability. Authoritarian regimes fear sovereign women, especially survivors, who speak openly about their experiences because we are resilient and people can relate to us, ”says Reem.
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in their World Press Freedom Index 2021, the most authoritarian countries in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia (170th), Egypt (166th) and Syria (173rd) – took advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic, to amplify their pandemic, methods to choke the media and reassert their monopoly on news and information.
The report also mentions how authorities continue to use surveillance to keep an eye on Saudi journalists even when they are abroad, as demonstrated by the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October 2018. “In this region, which is still the toughest and most dangerous for journalists, the pandemic has exacerbated the problems that have plagued the press for a long time, which has already been grappling with death,” the report said.
“I have faced gender-based attacks and systematic online trolling for speaking out against government sexual abuse, harassment and repression. I’ve received death threats and the trolls intimidated me with swear words. Twitter has become their playground. There is no room in the MENA and Gulf media scene to agree or disagree, and women journalists who are not affiliated with the state unfortunately have no place in the Middle East.
“I left the Middle East in March 2020 to live a dignified life where I could speak openly and freely about my experiences as a woman and help young girls and abuse survivors reclaim the narrative,” Reem says.
Return of “red-tagging” in the Philippines
In the Philippines, ranked 138th in the World Press Freedom Index 2021, the government continues to develop various methods to pressure journalists who criticize the summary methods used by “Punisher” Rodrigo Duterte and his “War on Drugs”. Media prosecution was accompanied by online harassment campaigns organized by pro-Duterte troll armies, which also launched cyber attacks on alternative news websites, including the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.
Red-tagging also went into effect in the Philippines in 2020 and one such victim was Lady Ann Salen, co-founder of the alternative media network Altermidya and editor of the news site Manila Today, who was arrested on firearms charges. Local police said they found 45 pistols and four grenades during the search.
“The police clearly planted the evidence to incriminate” Icy “Salem in an absolutely shameful manner,” said Daniel Bastard, head of the RSF Asia-Pacific office.
Lady Ann SalemWomen journalists work under military surveillance in this country, says Lady Ann Salen. “Online publications are hacked when they criticize the government, arrest journalists, confiscate their equipment, receive death threats, hate trolling and get banned from their Facebook accounts,” said Lady Ann.
“My arrest on planted evidence and trumped-up charges came just 9 days after the nationally televised red-tagging at the Senate hearing.
“It was December 10, 2020, around two in the morning, when the security guard from the condominium knocked on my door and the police marched into SWAT with their long guns and full riot gear – around 20 of them they let me and my companion in front of them Door wall, tied our hands behind our backs and left us neel on the floor for an hour. We were not allowed to make phone calls to our lawyer or any of our family members. ”
Lady Ann was detained for almost 12 hours and said the entire search was conducted in her “bedroom” and not in any other part of the apartment. “The police found a grenade in the small mesh pocket in my everyday pocket, a pistol between my laptop and my hard drives and under my pillow. They found weapons in pockets that did not belong to us. We were detained in four facilities in two months and three weeks. ”
Red tagging has long been a prelude to human rights abuses and a way to make the public aware that these people let it come, or even deserve it, when there were irregularities in the arrest or killing of someone tagged with a red was provided. In June 2016, when Rodrigo Duterte was sworn in as president, he had said: “Just because you are a journalist does not exempt you from murder if you are a son of a bitch. Freedom of expression cannot help you if you do something wrong . ”
“Despite these attacks and threats, female journalists continue to rise in the country, resisting pressure, defending their ranks and defending freedom of the press in the country. We must continue to serve the people with journalism, and our work is best done when it can contribute to just and meaningful changes in the lives of people in this country – a lot has yet to change, “says Lady Ann.
Iran: Polarized political sphere and strict state red lines
Iranian media freedom ranks 174 out of 180 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders (RSF) press freedom index for 2021.
According to the RSF report, Iran remains one of the most repressive countries in the world for journalists who put news and information under relentless scrutiny. At least 860 journalists and citizen journalists have been persecuted, arrested, imprisoned, and in some cases executed since the 1979 revolution.
The report mentions that the Iranian authorities have fought their fight against freedom of information across national borders and have put heavy pressure on Iranian journalists who work for international media.
Negar Mortazavi One such journalist is Negar Mortazavi, who has lived in the United States for nearly two decades but was forced into exile from Iran during the 2009 presidential election and the green movement. She is currently on trial against them and says “it is a great risk” to return to the country.
“As an Iranian-American journalist and analyst, I have covered both the Iranian government’s human rights violations and the negative effects of US sanctions and the dangers of a military escalation between the two countries. I have been a vocal critic of the Trump administration’s policies towards Iran, as well as a critic of Iran’s suppression against its own citizens. I have been a target of massive online abuse and harassment by various government sponsored entities, including the Islamic Republic, the United States government, and Saudi Arabian and Israeli online operations.
“They are constantly trying to discredit my work, regularly post death and rape threats, incite others to attack me, and do everything they can to intimidate and silence me,” says Negar.
In 2019, Negar used her Twitter handle to bring attention to a series of inflammatory tweets that tried to smear her work along with fellow American journalists and analysts on Twitter. Negar revealed the Iran Disinformation Project, a Foreign Ministry-funded initiative that claimed to “unearth disinformation from the Islamic Republic of Iran through official rhetoric, state propaganda, social media manipulation and more.”
“In response to the complaints, the US State Department has suspended funding of the initiative, but several other projects and cyber armies continue to tarnish journalists and analysts who criticize US policy towards Iran. They are specifically aimed at women with a sexist and misogynistic discourse to deter us from participating in public debates.
“It is very difficult to cover Iran remotely and US foreign policy towards the region in general. There are many strong players in the Middle East and Washington DC who don’t like nuance, objective reporting, and analysis of the region, ”says Negar.
Violations of journalists’ rights in countries like Iran, which frequently arrest journalists on trumped-up charges and subject journalists through unfair trials, long sentences without adequate legal support and medical care in prison, often have a strong gender element and a common thread of abuse, the aimed at journalists.
“In traditional societies with strict government red lines, women journalists are always the primary target, as the perception is that it is easier to intimidate and silence women. I know so many colleagues who have temporarily or permanently left social media because of abuse. In these times it is important that women are brave and courageous, overcome these barriers, form alliances and find partners, speak out against abuse and intimidation, ”says Negar.
Sania Farooqui is a journalist and filmmaker from New Delhi. She hosts a weekly online show called The Sania Farooqui Show, which invites Muslim women from around the world to share their views.
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