In this year’s GIJN’s Editor’s Pick series, Bangla editor Miraj Chowdhury writes that, despite many free speech and coronavirus-related challenges, there are numerous examples of important journalistic investigations taking place in the region. Here are some of the stories that mattered the most in 2020 for the 215 million Bangla speakers around the world.
The Bahraini constitution guarantees freedom of expression and the press, excluding opinions that undermine the fundamental beliefs of Islam or the “unity of the people” and those that promote “discord or sectarianism.” However, the Law of Press, Printing and Publishing of 2002 is used to restrict free speech.; Law 47/2002 includes 17 categories of offenses, three of which allow for prison sentences. The freedom of expression climate in Bahrain has changed significantly since 2011, when protests influenced by the “Arab Spring” started taking place. The Bahraini authorities responded by prosecuting journalists and critics that covered political events or reflected the voices of protesters and voices of dissent.
Forced labor, human trafficking and undocumented migration are prevalent across the globe. In the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, specific and shared characteristics of labor and migration laws and practices facilitate forced labor and human trafficking. Definitions
Forced Labor. All work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty or coercion, and for which the said person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily. The threat of penalty may include arrest or jail, refusal to pay wages, forbidding a worker from traveling freely, confiscating worker’s identity documents and withholding part of a worker’s salary as part of the repayment of a loan.
Freedom of speech in Kuwait is protected according to Articles 36 and 37 in the country’s constitution. However, that freedom is limited according to what is “specified by the law.”
Criticizing the Emir of Kuwait is illegal and could lead to more than five years in prison, physical abuse, extreme interrogation or badeportation. It is also illegal to publish work that insults Islam, the prophets or God. Publishing work that discusses them negatively could lead to more than a $50,000 fine and a year (or more) in prison.
These tips were provided by Yasin Kanade, a former Ugandan journalist deported for covering migrant worker issues in the United Arab Emirates. Media Environment
A journalist seeking to write about human trafficking in the UAE has to understand that any writing seen as contrary to the government narrative is a punishable offense. The local press law prohibits criticism of the government and ruling family, and reserves the right to censor any publication. The 2012 cybercrime law further penalizes online activities which includes information sharing, digital journalism and social media.
Full guide here. العربية | বাংলা
These tips were provided by Vani Saraswathi, a former Qatar-based journalist and associate editor for Migrant-Rights.org. Media Environment
While Qatar is home to the Al Jazeera network and the host of the Doha Centre for Media Freedom, there is little or no tolerance for critical reporting in the country. The Doha Centre does commendable work outside of the country, but its operations within are farcical. Overall, there is very little criticism of the government or the ruling family in the local media, with only occasional critical pieces around municipal council elections. Doha News was the only independent media in the country until it was blocked — the excuse given for the block was a lack of proper licensing — forcing its original owners/editors to sell. In fact, Qatar hasn’t issued a new media license in years, apart from one for Al Rayyan TV in May 2012. While online platforms do exist, the controversial Cyber Crime law makes independent operation difficult.
The three English and four Arabic newspapers all practice self-censorship, and any reporting on migrant labor issues is done without critical analysis or background.
Data on human trafficking, forced labor and irreegular migration is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Incidents are reported regularly, but this information tends to be scattered across media outlets, government reports and the publications of civil society organizations. For journalists willing to put in the hours, rich data can be mined from archived local media reports, which are available online. Both media in origin and destination countries regularly report on the numbers of undocumented workers deported from a country, or incidents involving trafficked workers.
Below we highlight the most critical sources for understanding trafficking, forced labor and irregular migration issues in the MENA region. Human Rights Reporting and News
Human Rights Watch: HRW has produced multi-lingual reporting on the situation of migrant workers and domestic workers in the MENA region since the 2000s. Reports feature in-depth interviews with workers and analysis of regulations. Their website also features current statements on recent news.