US journalist freed in Lebanon after call by rights groups

Nada Homsi, a freelance American journalist who was detained in Beirut last month, gestures as she speaks during an interview with AP, in Beirut on Wednesday. (AP)
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Updated 08 December 2021

US journalist freed in Lebanon after call by rights groups

  • Nada Homsi, the journalist, said after her release that her arrest was part of an intimidation campaign used by Lebanon's security agencies against foreign journalists
  • Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said Homsi was arrested without a judicial order on Nov. 16

BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities freed Wednesday a freelance American journalist who was detained in Beirut last month. The release came just hours after two international human rights groups called her detention arbitrary and demanded that she be set free.
Nada Homsi, the journalist, said after her release that her arrest was part of an intimidation campaign used by Lebanon’s security agencies against foreign journalists.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said Homsi was arrested without a judicial order on Nov. 16 by members of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate. The reasons for the raid remain unknown and her detention is now arbitrary, the groups had said.
“I feel good that I’m free but I shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place,” Homsi told The Associated Press, adding that Lebanese security agencies are “going after foreign journalists so that they can’t cover things that are happening in Lebanon.”
Since Lebanon’s economic meltdown began two years ago, many foreign and local journalists have reported on widespread corruption among the country’s political class, which has been running the small nation since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.
“Nada is at home and the decision to deport her has been dropped,” Homsi’s lawyer, Diala Chehade, told the AP, adding that all her papers and documents were given back to her.
Earlier, Chehade said that security force that raided Homsi’s apartment found a small amount of cannabis. Chehade said the officers then called the public prosecutor, who issued an arrest warrant for Homsi and her partner, a Palestinian national. The officers confiscated her electronics and some documents, she said.
General Security members are deployed at Lebanon’s border crossings, ports and the country’s only international airport, and the department usually deals with foreigners by issuing visas and residency permits.
“Not only did General Security officers raid Homsi’s apartment without producing a judicial warrant, but they also violated her rights in detention by denying her access to a lawyer,” said Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Chehade said Homsi lives in Beirut’s predominantly Christian neighborhood of Achrafieh and had earlier this year raised a Palestinian flag on her apartment. This angered a district administrator who complained to the Lebanese army. Army intelligence members then came to the apartment and asked Homsi to remove the flag, which she did, Chehade said.
Homsi wrote a post on her Facebook account detailing the flag incident in May, her lawyer said. “I believe this was the motive that led to the raid,” Chehade said, adding that they found the cannabis during the raid.
The two rights groups said that although the public prosecutor ordered her release on Nov. 25, General Security issued a deportation order for her and “continues to detain her arbitrarily.”
On her Twitter account, Homsi writes that she is currently working for National Public Radio and usually writes about Syria and Lebanon. Homsi has worked with several Arab and international outlets, including most recently, NPR.
General Security officers had continued to insist that Homsi was being detained “for security reasons,” but they have failed to provide any details to Chehade to allow her to prepare a defense, the group said. They added that no security or military charges have been filed against Homsi, but she was charged for consumption of drugs.
Chehade filed a request to release Homsi on Nov. 25, and on the same day, the Beirut Public Prosecutor ordered her release. However, General Security continued to detain Homsi under the pretext that she was working in the country without a proper work permit.
Chehade said General Security officials told her Homsi is under arrest for security reasons, without saying what the reasons are.
“The continuation of the arrest is either a stubborn act by General Security or a deliberate policy that they have done with other foreigners before” to deport them, Chehade said.

Controversial music video criticizes Iran’s leadership

Updated 06 December 2023

Controversial music video criticizes Iran’s leadership

  • Sasy Mannequin accuses country’s officials of hypocrisy
  • Popularity highlights growing generational divide, says writer

LONDON: A satirical music video lampooning Iran’s leaders has gone viral on the internet, igniting a nationwide debate.

The teaser of the video, expected to be fully released by exiled Los Angeles-based singer Sasy Mannequin in the coming days, has attracted tens of millions of views in Iran, where it has been banned.

Mannequin’s video, “Leila’s Brothers,” which is named after the 2022 Cannes-selected banned Iranian film, satirizes a children’s program on Iran’s state television and sharply criticizes Iranian officials and their primary propaganda outlet, state TV, for their perceived hypocrisy.

The video, which has become an instant sensation in the country, has circulated widely on Soroush, the government-sponsored social media platform established to counter the “cultural onslaught” from foreign platforms.

It has triggered an immediate response from censors and clerical judges who, on Dec. 3, issued an arrest order for Farhad Moradi, the managing director of the homegrown social network.

Iran International reported on Tuesday that Moradi had been released earlier in the week on bail.

However, according to the London-based Farsi channel, critics of the singer’s hit song have called for the closure of the platform, with some urging Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to have the singer arrested, and one wanting him targeted by Iranian intelligence agencies.

Aired on Radio Javan, a US-based, MTV-style channel that broadcasts Persian music around the clock, the full original audio song of the video can be found on YouTube, along with the teaser clip.

Widely known as Sasy, the singer is no stranger to controversy. Despite regime censorship, schoolchildren across Iran sing and dance to his songs, and young Iranians frequently play them, defying the ban.

One of his previous videos, “Gentleman,” provoked anger in Iranian officials, leading to the dismissal of several teachers after it was revealed that students enthusiastically danced and sang to the catchy melody during school events.

Farhad Farzad, the editor of Rouydad24 website in Tehran, attributed the video’s popularity to its “color, rhythm, and sex appeal,” elements absent in Iran’s entertainment industry, particularly on state TV.

Behrouz Turani, a British-Iranian writer and journalist, said: “Sasy’s simple songs often become controversial in Iran only because what viewers see and hear in them are in sharp contrast to the extremely conservative and traditional modes of behavior approved by the fundamentalist Islamic Republic.”

He added that this incident is not isolated but symptomatic of the growing divide between Iran’s elderly clerics and the Generation Z subculture, which is both “prevalent and simultaneously strange to traditional minds.”

He said: “This is the generation that was behind the 2022 Woman, Life, Freedom protests; a generation that has refused to accept the Islamic Republic’s propaganda and insists that nothing is sacred.”

Washington Post journalists plan 24-hour strike amid prolonged contract talks

Updated 06 December 2023

Washington Post journalists plan 24-hour strike amid prolonged contract talks

  • Walkout represents major work stoppage since 1976
  • Newspaper is also trying to reduce workforce by 10 percent

LONDON: Unionized journalists at The Washington Post said they would stage a 24-hour strike on Thursday to protest staff cuts and what they call management’s failure to bargain in good faith in contract talks that have stretched on for 18 months.
The planned one-day walkout would mark the first general work stoppage at the Post since the bitter, 20-week pressmen’s strike of 1975-76, when Katharine Graham was publisher, according to union officials.
The latest labor clash comes a little more than a month after William Lewis, former publisher of The Wall Street Journal, was named chief executive and publisher of the Post as the venerable Washington daily newspaper was projecting a year-end loss of $100 million. Lewis is due to take charge on Jan. 2, 2024.
The Post is one of many news outlets struggling to devise a sustainable business model in the decades since the Internet upended the economics of journalism and digital advertising rates plummeted.
Executives at the Post, which is owned by billionaire founder Jeff Bezos, said at the time of the Lewis announcement that they were offering voluntary buyouts across the company in a bid to reduce employee headcount by about 10 percent and shrink the size of the newsroom to about 940 journalists.
The Washington-Baltimore News Guild, which represents more than 1,000 editorial, advertising and other non-news staff at the Post, said mismanagement by the previous publisher led to nearly 40 layoffs last year — half from the newsroom — and the company was now seeking to cut another 240 jobs through buyouts.
Representatives for the newspaper’s management did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the labor dispute.
According to the union, management has threatened to impose more layoffs if too few staffers accept voluntary severance packages.
“That means fewer Post employees making the critical journalism that keeps our communities informed and holds our public officials accountable,” the Guild said in an online statement.
Moreover, after 18 months of contract negotiations, “the company is refusing to pay us what we’re worth or bargain in good faith,” the union said on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. “So on Dec. 7, we’re walking off the job for 24 hours.”
A Guild-produced online video features numerous Post journalists, including chief Ukraine correspondent Siobhan O’Grady, pledging to strike and urging readers to “respect our picket line by avoiding Washington Post journalism” during the walkout.
They assert the company’s wage proposals would fail to keep pace with inflation or with the pay of competitors.
The minute-long video ends with the refrain, “because we’re worth more, worth more than our bosses are offering.”
Of the 1,000-plus Post employees covered under the News Guild’s contract, more than 700 are dues-paying members of the union, while nearly 750 staffers have pledged to observe the walkout, Sarah Kaplan, chief guild steward at the newspaper, said on Tuesday.
“The paper will suffer for a day, and that’s not something we take lightly,” she said, adding that the strike is intended to send the message that “cutting and disinvesting in employees is not a path to success.”

‘Silence is complicity:’ UNICEF spokesperson denounces Israeli massacre, calls for world attention

Updated 05 December 2023

‘Silence is complicity:’ UNICEF spokesperson denounces Israeli massacre, calls for world attention

  • Conflict has killed largest number of UN workers in history, James Elder said
  • At least 15,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since Oct. 7 

LONDON: Accounting from southern Gaza, UNICEF spokesperson James Elder called on the world not to remain complicit and urged heightened attention to the unfolding crisis in Palestine.

The conflict, which has now claimed the lives of more UN workers than any other in history, has resulted in the death of at least 15,000 Palestinians since Oct. 7, according to reports.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Elder emphasized the devastating toll on UNRWA colleagues, with more than 100 individuals killed in what he described as the largest number of casualties in the history of the UN during a seven or eight-week period.

He condemned the situation as both immoral and likely illegal, referring to the current state in Gaza as nothing short of a “bloodbath.”

Elder said: “I feel these safe zones are trying to prepare a narrative for continued massacres of children. Silence is complicity.”

In a separate interview, he criticized the illusion of safety in Gaza, citing instances ranging from children being bombed in hospitals to the deaths of UN colleagues.

UNRWA has confirmed the loss of 111 colleagues since Oct. 7, further underscoring the severity of the crisis.

The UN agency responsible for supporting the relief and human development of Palestinian refugees also revealed alarming statistics: 117 incidents at 85 different premises, with 30 camps directly hit and 55 sustaining collateral damages.

Videos documenting these events circulated widely, drawing attention to Elder’s humanity and compassionate dedication amid extreme circumstances.

A post published on Tuesday by UNRWA on social media described the situation in Gaza as “intolerable” and warned against further escalation of the conflict.

“The resumption of the military operation and its expansion further in southern #Gaza is repeating horrors from past weeks,” the post reads.

“We have said it repeatedly. We are saying it again. No place is safe in #Gaza.”

Between Oct. 7 and Nov. 19, the Gaza Ministry of Health reported more than 12,700 deaths.

Subsequent updates were halted as multiple hospitals collapsed.

Recent reports from the Gaza Government Media Office suggest a grim escalation, with fatalities rising by more than 2,300 to a staggering total of more than 15,000. Among these casualties, about 6,150 are children and about 4,000 are women.

Arab News’ ‘Kingdom Vs Captagon’ deep dive wins gold medal at WAN-IFRA Middle East Awards 2023

Updated 05 December 2023

Arab News’ ‘Kingdom Vs Captagon’ deep dive wins gold medal at WAN-IFRA Middle East Awards 2023

  • 14-month investigative report wins Best Data Visualization category
  • “Saudi Animal Kingdom” clings second spot in the same category

LONDON: Arab News, the region’s leading English language daily, clinched two prestigious awards at the acclaimed 2023 WAN-IFRA Middle East Media Awards, highlighting its excellence in in-depth investigative journalism.

The publication seized the top honor in the Best Data Visualization category for its groundbreaking investigative feature, “The Kingdom Vs Captagon,” showcasing a 14-month research effort that delves into the pervasive drug crisis in the Arab region. This accomplishment emphasizes the team’s unwavering dedication to delivering compelling and informative content, despite the unprecedented competition in this year’s record-breaking event.

Commenting on the successes, Mohammed Sulami, Arab News Jeddah regional officer, remarked: “This award acknowledges one of the myriad accomplishments of the Arab News team, led by Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas.

“We take pride in this recognition and eagerly anticipate further successes at Arab News, striving to fulfill the aspirations of our valued readers.”

Jurors praised the investigation, noting it as a rare find: “It is very rare to find stories that are well-researched and presented in a friendly and engaging way. This story is one of them.”

This year’s competition witnessed a record-breaking number of entries, making it the most competitive season in WAN-IFRA Middle East history.

In addition to the triumph of “The Kingdom Vs Captagon,” the “Saudi Animal Kingdom” deep dive earned a silver medal, showcasing Arab News’ mastery in compelling storytelling and adept data presentation. This research delves into the intricate subject of the Arabian Peninsula’s delicate ecosystem, shedding light on how the leopard plays a pivotal role in initiatives aimed at conserving and regenerating Saudi Arabia’s landscapes and wildlife.

Omar Nashashibi, the head of the design team at Arab News, expressed pride in winning first and second place, describing it as a “fantastic achievement.”

He added: “Data visualisation and digital storytelling are a big part of what we do, and to have that effort recognised by our audience - especially when shedding light on important topics such as Saudi Arabia’s animal conservation efforts and their battle against Captagon - is a very proud moment for the team.

Since its global expansion and digital transformation plan in 2016, Arab News has consistently stood at the forefront of innovation, relaunching as a digital-first, 24/7 platform with an award-winning design. The publication has garnered numerous design and excellence awards, including the Digital Award of Excellence and the Print Award of Excellence at the 2022 Society for News Design.

Arab News has been recognized by international bodies such as the Indigo Design Awards, the Newspaper Design Competition, the Creative Communication Awards, and the European Newspaper Awards over the years.

With the gold and silver medals awarded for the two deep dives, the publication’s award count has now exceeded 100 — a testament to its continuous contribution to innovation in the regional media landscape.

The Kingdom vs Captagon
Inside Saudi Arabia's war against the drug destroying lives across the Arab world

Saudi Arabia to impose requirement for all media workers to register professionally

Updated 05 December 2023

Saudi Arabia to impose requirement for all media workers to register professionally

  • Mandate aims to focus on profession’s rights, document professional’s data, implement guidelines
  • All media professionals urged to complete registration by the first half of 2024

LONDON: The second stage of the “professional registration for media professionals” was initiated by the Saudi Media Regulatory Authority on Monday.

All individuals employed in the industry are now required to complete this registration process before the first half of 2024 concludes.

Minister of Information Salman Al-Dosari stated on X that the project’s aim was to preserve rights, regulate and protect the practice of the profession and the anticipated “continuous development, for the sake of a profession that we are betting on and on its practitioners.”

The Saudi Media Regulatory Authority highlighted several advantages that professional registration would offer, including priority access to specialized events, workshops and seminars. It also noted that the registration encompassed more than 50 different professions within the media industry.

To register, the candidate must be working in the sector or related fields, unless they can provide evidence of previous experience in the specific field they are applying for, and must also submit experience certificates from all their previous employers.

Omar Abu Bakr, regulatory affairs adviser at the authority, explained that this step aimed to inform practitioners of the profession and of the latest regulations and legislation.

In a statement to Al-Ekhbariya channel, Abu Bakr urged all media professionals to complete registration by the first half of 2024, emphasizing that practicing in these occupations beyond that timeframe without proper registration would be considered a punishable offense.

More than 5,500 media professionals have benefited from professional registration since the project was launched in 2020, during its first phase.

Similarly, in October 2022, the General Commission for Audiovisual Media introduced a new licensing system to monitor the influencer industry.

The regulatory framework requires that Saudi and non-Saudi content creators in the Kingdom who earn revenue through advertising on social media must apply for a three-year permit for a fee of SR15,000 (roughly $4,000).

GCAM said that the new legislation was required to guarantee greater transparency and better regulation of the industry and its professionals.