Western media outlets routinely portray despotic Gulf regimes as benign and friendly states. However, these same outlets ignore the harsh realities that their fellow journalists deal with on a regular basis within those countries, including harassment, imprisonment and torture.
MINNEAPOLIS– While serving as an unabashed arms dealer to the world’s most repressive governments, the United States is also acting as their public relations agent, characterizing countries that routinely undermine freedom of the press, as well as the rights of women and minorities, as being safe and friendly.
The clearest examples can be found in three Gulf nations: Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar.
While Jordan’s Queen Rania and King Abdallah are featured in intimate photo stories published by publications like People in the West, the Jordanian government spends its time attacking the press in its home country. In 2015, journalist Jamal Ayyoub was arrested and imprisoned after he published an article critical of the Saudi-led military campaign against Yemen.
For decades, journalists have been targeted by the Jordanian government in a way that’s been described as having “a chilling effect.” The phenomenon has gotten worse in recent times, largely due to new laws and regulations that have been passed in order to stifle criticism. Eleven journalists from the news website 7iber were detained in 2016 alone.
In Bahrain, where a people’s uprising has been largely ignored by mainstream media, government authorities have detained, harassed and tortured journalists. Those who have been targeted include Sayed Ahmed Al-Mousawi and photographer Ahmed Humaidan, who were singled out for documenting the government’s suppression of demonstrations. Al-Mousawi was brutally tortured and jailed without due process, while Humaidan was given a 10-year prison sentence. Both men remain in prison.
According to Qatar’s National Library, the Qatari mass media is considered to be the most powerful media entity in the entire Arab world. This influence is enough to hide the persecution of journalists, as well as protect the interests of a state-operated media industry that is owned by members of the ruling family or their business associates. While filming a documentary on the 2022 FIFA World Cup that highlighted the abuse laborers face in Qatar, journalists were detained by the state and forced to sign “confessions.”
And it wasn’t the first time authorities in Qatar abused their power in this fashion. In 2011, Qatar sentenced a poet to life in prison for daring to insult the country’s top monarch. In 2016, the poet, Muhammad Rasheed al-Ajami, was pardoned in 2016 after spending five years in jail.
While Gulf nations may enjoy the positive attention of mainstream media outside their respective borders, the dark reality of their treatment of journalists should be fully acknowledged by these same media outlets.