In ANHRI’s Freedom of Expression Annual Report issued in 2009 monitoring freedom of expression in the Arab world during 2008, political “Hesba” lawsuits (cases filed by private parties in the name of protecting state interests) were the predominant form of violation of freedom of expression. Such litigations always target opinion holders, writers and journalists in an attempt to pander to the regime; by filing lawsuits against critics of the government showing hostility towards the views they raised against the regime. These lawsuits are filed by individuals who are mostly seeking a low-cost fame; as a “Hesba” lawsuit that doesn’t cost a few pounds can indeed attract the attention of the government-backed newspapers that always rush to shed light on any issue that supports the regime.
Now, in 2019 and after 10 years, it seems that history repeats itself. Political “Hesba” lawsuits have strongly and more severely resurfaced in Egypt, in a way that, ANHRI believes, it aims to satisfy and appease the authorities, if not with their permission.
This is the situation in Egypt, so does it vary in the other Arab countries?
We don’t think so. To state it more accurately, the only difference is in the details.
The new wave of Arab uprisings have been met with extreme violence by the governments, whether in countries that have recently witnessed these revolutions and uprisings, such as Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon, and Iraq, or other countries that saw the start of the first wave of uprisings, such as Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and Syria, not to mention the rest of the Arab countries that fear an expansion of the new wave of uprisings. This violence is represented in the corruption of suppression and the crackdown on dissent and, of course, freedom of expression and freedom of the press are at the forefront of the freedoms being targeted by these Arab governments.
Not a single Arab country has stopped incarcerating opponents in publishing-related cases, even in Tunisia- which is supposed to be an exception- opinion holders have faced detentions as well, although in a way that may be less severe.
Methods of suppression may vary, but what is constant is the hostility towards freedom of expression and freedom of the press. In Kuwait, for example, the government is hostile most to Twitter, whereas in Egypt, Facebook faces the most severe hostility from the regime. In Saudi Arabia, no one is allowed to voice a different opinion opposing the regime’s one. The United Arab Emirates practices all kinds of repression to curb freedom of expression as part of its hostility towards public freedoms and hides such hostility behind mock ministries such as the Ministry of Happiness!!
Following in the footsteps of Egypt, Bahrain uses “the fight against terrorism” as a “legal” pretext to severely crack down on opponents leveling against them terrorism-related charges.
In Morocco, many opinion holders, especially journalists and the Hirak Rif Movement’s activists, are being brought to unfair trials that don’t meet the most basic rules of justice and due process.
The worst situation is still in Yemen, where journalists and opinion holders are enduring severe violations by the Houthi forces, on the one hand, and the UAE and Saudi-backed government forces headed by President Mansour Hadi, on the other hand.
In Palestine, the situation is not much different, although it is less severe given the fact that the country is under occupation; as the Hamas Authority is restricting the exercise of freedom of expression in areas under its control just as the Palestinian Authority practices repression in territory falling within its jurisdiction.
Examples are too numerous to be cited here, but when you read the report digging deep into its 12 chapters (12 countries), you will find that the situation of freedom of the press and freedom of expression in the Arab world, indeed, pleases neither friend nor foe.