Friday, August 24, 2007

Targeting Journalists and the Information Superhighway Divide (Asharq Alawsat Newspaper)

Targeting Journalists and the Information Superhighway Divide (Asharq Alawsat Newspaper): Targeting Journalists and the Information Superhighway Divide


Without publishing the details of their conviction, an Iranian Revolutionary Court issued death sentences against Iranian Kurdish journalist, Adnan Hassanpur, and Iranian Kurdish environmental activist, Abdolwahed (Hiwa) Butimar.

In a closed session, both journalists were convicted on charges of endangering national security, as well as conspiring and working to spread separatist propaganda against the state.

Hassanpur had previously criticized the Iranian regime on several occasions, and his weekly newspaper was banned from publication by the authorities in 2005. However, the accusations leveled against him and his indictment was not linked to his profession as a journalist. The mystery that surrounded his trial has led many to believe that his criticism of the regime was the real reason behind his conviction.

The sentences issued against the two men are neither exceptional nor reprehensible in a regime like the Iranian one, or in the Arab regimes in the region, all of which have a long history of targeting journalists and intellectuals. Many have been imprisoned or subjected to murder and prosecution. Although there is an abundance of news about unfair trials in various Arab states, this sentence issued by Iran’s Revolutionary Court is an alarming one since it has reached the death penalty, rather than just imprisonment.

But if the increasing number of reporters persecuted by their arbitrary regimes is a matter that elicits concern, then it must be said that the number of journalists abducted or killed is more abominable and frightening. This is especially so given the unprecedented rise in the number of victims, some of whom are in Iraq. Theirs is a plight that is not attentively received by the Arab public firstly, nor the international public opinion in turn.

When journalists are imprisoned, statements of condemnation and petitions are issued, while activists or concerned organizations try to mobilize the cause by exposing it before the public opinion.

When journalists are killed, in Iraq or Lebanon for example, we count the bodies  without disregarding the alarming numbers of the civilian victims in Iraq alone.

But if that’s the case; how could we even begin to assess the impact of the consequences of information related to prosecution, murder and intimidation?! How can we find out what we know nothing of if this high cost of delivering information subsists? And what is the real price of silence, which is intended for many people in our region who are imprisoned by it.

Such questions are worthy of contemplation, particularly in light of the development and diversity of communication means. However, in the face of this information revolution, these regimes have remained ensnared by their inherent tyrannies, while the societies are victimized by their beliefs and dogmas. Iraq is an example; the number of journalists and civilians killed has become difficult to enumerate.

But this targeting is not simply planned by regimes alone, but also by rival groups, or sometimes even by the very group that the journalist is affiliated with  as in the cases of journalists who dare to criticize the practices of their fellow countrymen.

It is true that today we live in the era of the citizen-journalist, by virtue of the huge scope of information available on the Internet to all those wishing to express their opinions or share their experience. But this alone is not enough, especially with the dedicated efforts exerted to block the websites and prosecute activists on the web.

There is no doubt that the cost of death and murder are hard to measure, however this persistence in targeting and killing journalists doubles the danger that the rest of them have to endure.

It is the social cost of terror and a coercive inducement towards silence.

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