My word: Flogging newspapers, flogging journalists

Leaders lashing out at journalists for doing their job is wrong.

AN ACTIVIST from Reporters Without Borders, with fake injuries and pictures of Iran’s then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, participates in a demonstration in Paris in 2012 against the imprisonment of journalists. (photo credit: REUTERS)
AN ACTIVIST from Reporters Without Borders, with fake injuries and pictures of Iran’s then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, participates in a demonstration in Paris in 2012 against the imprisonment of journalists.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Whipping up a political frenzy is one thing; ordering journalists to be flogged is another. No good can come out of either. While attention last week was focused “what next?”-style on US President Donald Trump, many people missed a major story. On January 30, the International Federation of Journalists issued a press statement in which it joined its affiliate, the Association of Iranian Journalists, in calling for the rejection of a court ruling ordering the flogging of two Iranian journalists who were convicted of “inaccurate reporting.”
Not only journalists should be outraged by the Iranian sentencing. Anybody who cares about human rights and decency should be concerned.
According to local reports, Mustafa Barari and Arash Shoaa, who worked for different news websites, were charged with “spreading lies” and “publication without a license.” They now face 114 and 40 lashes, respectively, as well as a 1 million rial fine.
Another Iranian journalist, according to human rights groups, received 40 lashes on January 5 after a court found him guilty of inaccurately reporting the number of motorcycles confiscated by local police. The IFJ noted that last year, an appeal court sentenced journalist Mohammad Reza Tathi to 459 lashes for “publishing lies” and “creating unease in the public mind” through his writing.
“We are appalled by these outrageous flogging sentences handed down to Iranian journalists,” said IFJ president Philippe Leruth. “Such cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment our colleagues are facing is a flagrant violation of their basic human rights under international human rights law.”
Keeping in mind the similar flogging of Saudi blogger Raif Badaw, I am counting my blessings.
The worst things I face are occasional nasty talkbacks and nonconstructive criticism.
These are hard times for journalists. Last April, I attended the European Federation of Journalists convention in Sarajevo, where Dunja Mijatovic, representative on freedom of the media at the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), gave a depressing keynote speech, addressing, among other things, the increasing gender-specific online threats and abuse of female journalists and bloggers; raids on editorial offices and homes; and action against whistle-blowing journalists, even in countries such as Denmark and Luxembourg.
This week, the EFJ newsletter noted a report presented to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe discussing the rising levels of violence against journalists, particularly in Turkey, Russia and Azerbaijan. Ukrainian MP Volodymyr Ariev, who presented the report, cited the deaths of 16 journalists and the arrest of 150 media employees since January 2015 in member states.
IN ISRAEL this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the “leftist media” of distorting the intent of his tweet about the US wall with Mexico and being “mobilized in a Bolshevik campaign of brainwashing and character assassination, against me and my family.”
You don’t have to be a Bolshevik to wonder out loud about the wisdom of the Israeli premier tweeting “President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.”
As it happens, I think the wall Netanyahu built along the border with Egypt was a great idea. But his tweet, unlike the border, is not open to interpretation: He is both backslapping himself, which is awkward, and congratulating Trump on something that is not Netanyahu’s (or Israel’s) business.
In any case, when Trump and Netanyahu meet later this month, they will have a lot to discuss – including their common complaints about the media and Iran.
Apart from its appalling ongoing human rights abuses at home, Iran this week conducted another ballistic missile test, violating the UN Security Council resolution that endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear deal.
Nuclear energy and nuclear medicine, needless to say, do not require ballistic missiles for delivery.
And in case you needed another reminder that Iran’s terrorist tentacles stretch far from Tehran, on January 30, Iranian-backed Houthi fighters in Yemen killed two Saudi sailors in an attack on a Saudi frigate.
In other news, not coincidentally, Iran is trying to strengthen its hold in disintegrating Syria by reportedly moving Shi’ites into a strip of empty, formerly Sunni villages.
That’s why, in between voicing what increasingly seems like an obsession with the media, Netanyahu is also concerned with events on the northern border as well as the southern one and the ever-present threat from terrorism.
TRUMP’S EXECUTIVE order regarding entry restrictions to the US brought out both the best and the worst in the media. Like Netanyahu’s Mexico tweet and subsequent spin, a lot of it has to do with the style rather than the message.
(As an interested outsider, I admit that I am surprised by the speed with which Trump is trying to implement his campaign promises, and concerned by the way he is doing it. Watching what he managed to accomplish, in his own fashion, within a week makes me wonder, however, why former president Barack Obama was unable to close Guantanamo Bay prison during eight years in office. In January 2009, Obama issued an executive order to close it within a year. Even with a comfortable Republican majority, Trump is likely to discover that executive orders are not magical solutions.)

David French in the National Review (no, not all the media are left-wing) did a good job of separating facts from rhetoric. He noted that despite the images of the Statue of Liberty in tears, “the order temporarily halts refugee admissions for 120 days to improve the vetting process, then caps refugee admissions at 50,000 per year. Outrageous, right? Not so fast. Before 2016, when Obama dramatically ramped up refugee admissions, Trump’s 50,000 stands roughly in between a typical year of refugee admissions in George W. Bush’s two terms and a typical year in Obama’s two terms....
“Second, the order imposes a temporary, 90-day ban on people entering the US from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. These are countries either torn apart by jihadist violence or under the control of hostile, jihadist governments.”
French also noted that the ban allows the secretaries of state and homeland security to make exceptions on a case-by-case basis, “a provision that would, one hopes, fully allow interpreters and other proven allies to enter the US during the 90-day period.”
In the early 1980s, a friend and fellow student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was unable to visit her sister living in the US, being denied a visa solely on the grounds that she had been born and raised in Iran. Bureaucracy, in its heartless way, did not recognize that as a Jew, she had fled Iran after the Islamic Revolution.
Prioritizing asylum seekers by need, including the threats they face as persecuted religious minorities, makes sense.
It is not what you do but how you do it: The sudden cancellation of entry permits, in some case mid-flight, for people who already hold green cards, was highly disturbing; the far-reaching use of presidential executive orders is perturbing.
The press and members of the public are right to point out the flaws.
Leaders lashing out at journalists for doing their job is wrong.
Flogging for blogging is unconscionable.
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