Gulf States Ranked Among the Worst States for Press Freedom
The Journalist Support Committee regards with concern the deteriorating situation of press freedom in the Gulf Cooperation Council states of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait. In their recently published annual World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Saudi Arabia (172), Bahrain (167) and the UAE (133) out of 180 countries based on criteria such as absence of independent media and persecution of journalists.
Kuwait (108) fared highest out of the six GCC states nevertheless this is a fall of 3 places since last year’s rankings. In Qatar (128) although their overall score has improved in relation to other states they have fallen three places since last year due to continued censorship and the lack of editorial freedom. In Oman (132) the situation has deteriorated for press freedom in recent years and online activists and bloggers in particular have suffered reprisals. In April 2018 online activist and writer Hassan al-Basham died in custody in Samail Central Prison, Oman. In February 2019 Musab al-Thuli was detained for expressing support for the Palestinian cause on Twitter and Haytham al-Mashayki was detained for rejecting normalisation with Israel on Facebook.
All this points towards a continued clampdown on the freedom to express opinions and disseminate information in the Gulf Cooperation Council region. The trend includes increased incidences of arbitrary detention and reprisals against journalists in the GCC - including incidents such as the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey and the recent detention of Akbar al-Khaleej columnist Ibrahim al-Sheikh in Bahrain. Executive member of Journalist Support Committee Hussein Yusif has stated that the sharp decline in press freedom in the Gulf Cooperation Council is no surprise as these states continue to act with impunity despite reprisals against journalists.
The Journalist Support Committee calls on the six Gulf Cooperation Council member states to adopt basic standards of human rights relating to freedom of expression as specified in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman should sign and ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) while Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar who have already ratified this treaty should adhere to Article 19 and ensure that freedom of expression is protected.
Journalist Support Committee
Geneva – Switzerland
30 April 2019