Lebanon: Safety of women journalists in jeopardy amidst protests
December 7, 2019 — The Coalition For Women In Journalism is concerned about the treatment of women journalists during the ongoing protests in Beirut. We are monitoring the situation on the ground and online.
Our monitoring shows that women journalists are being harassed and abused in an attempt to stop them from doing their job. The Coalition condemns the harassment and threats directed at women journalists. We urge Lebanese authorities to ensure their safety and security.
It is worrying that women journalists are facing harassment and threats while trying to report on ground. They are also being threatened on digital platforms. Their trolling in online spaces involves verbal abuse, while they are also threatened with physical abuse, in addition to receiving death threats. The behavior women journalists are being subjected to is totally unacceptable. These journalists are simply doing their job by reporting the anti-government protests in the country for almost 50 days.
The protests in Lebanon erupted after tax measures by Lebanese government were imposed on October 17. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets pointing fingers at the political leadership of Lebanon. They called for economic and social reforms. Journalists on the ground are covering the turn of events during the protests — where protesters are demanding the “fall of the regime” directing their fury towards those who have ruled the country’s politics for several decades.
To understand the situation better, CFWIJ spoke with our member and journalist Luna Safwan, who is working on the ground in Beirut, to shed light on how women journalists are coping with the threats and attacks while covering the protests in Beirut.
“Journalists in Lebanon are not as harassed or targeted when compared with other countries in the MENA region. However, since the start of the protests, we witnessed an escalation when it comes to targeting journalists and media activists on the ground, specifically women. Even though their male counterparts were also attacked, women journalists were mainly targeted, whether it was physically on the ground or online through verbal attacks, smear campaigns and threats,” Luna said.
When the supporters of Hezbollah and Amal Movement clashed and demonstrators were protesting on a highway, journalist Nawal Berry of MTV Lebanon News, was cornered in a building by thugs who were against the protesters for almost an hour. She had to be smuggled out of the building as many were throwing rocks at her and was being physically attacked. Reports of her camera being smashed and microphone being robbed have also been received.
Women with cameras were specially harassed. Two days ago, a Sky News reporter Larissa Aoun was covering the protests in Beirut and her phone was broken in the middle of a clash between the army and protesters.
“There are also reports of equipment being confiscated. Whenever a woman is seen with a phone, camera or other equipment, she is pushed or asked not to take pictures, sometimes by protesters or security forces or those interrupting the protests. Additionally, the security forces have been really trying to cut off any live TV coverage whenever there is a protest happening and since women reporters are more likely to stay live on TV, they are mostly caught in the middle of being pushed by them,” Luna said when speaking with CFWIJ.
Luna further informed us that an active smear campaign has also taken pace against women journalists who dare to speak against the president and the powerful political parties in Lebanon such as Hezbollah. Case in point, Dima Sadek, a prominent journalist who has been attacked and impeded during her coverage of the protests.
Dima’s smartphone was stolen while she filmed on the ground and has faced harassment as well. Her mother has also received threatening phone calls and has suffered a stroke due to stress. Dima has blamed Hezbollah supporters for the harassment she has been subjected to so far. She has also resigned from her job as an anchor person last month, following her channel’s management’s decision to keep her off the air for political reasons. Dima was also told that her social media posts were also why she was being kept off air and would be able to get back to her normal work routine if she would put a stop to her usual online activity. She has also been verbally targeted by a Shiite cleric, who had criticized Dima during a sermon, while threatening to “crucify” her and encouraged to have her right arm and left leg amputated or sent into exile.
CFWIJ also got in touch with Leila Molana Allen, France 24’s correspondent in Lebanon, who shared that most of the harassment has been towards local women journalists who work for local stations, particularly for their reporting in Arabic. “There has been some pressure, as well as a lot of verbal and physical aggression, coming from security forces, sectarian supporters and in some cases, protesters too. However, it is less from the protesters,” she said.
Leila further shared that in general, the protesters have been welcoming and pro-media because they want the protests to be publicized. But that is not the case with security forces and sectarian supporters when there are clashes.
“Whenever security forces would attempt to remove protesters from roads, they would suddenly move in and use force or tear gas to disperse them, so in a few scenarios, we have seen local media being pushed back and told not to film the situation,” Leila said.
She also spoke about being impeded while covering the protests. “I have been caught in a few incidents where they’ve been scuffles between protesters and security forces or between protesters and sectarian supporters, while security forces have been trying to keep them apart,” she said and added, “On several occasions, I have had security forces grab my camera or coming up to me and telling me to stop filming on my camera or my phone. This has happened half a dozen times during my reporting about the protests.
Following the deplorable reports of attacks on women journalists coming in from Beirut, the Founding Director of CFWIJ Kiran Nazish said, “Covering large protests in many parts of the Middle East has always been so hard for women journalists — we remember the many terrible incidents that happened during the Arab Spring. Following which over the years we have seen many journalism support organizations and others in the industry to train and equip women reporters to be able to take precautions on the ground. But the scope of these attacks are now changing and diversifying.” she said.
“Unfortunately this is an ever more precarious situation and it is important to point out to Labenese authorities that they have a responsibility to protect the press. Not doing so or doing the opposite is rather reckless,” Kiran added.
Reports of attacks on journalists working for OTV, a pro-government news channel, were also doing the rounds. The journalists were said to have removed their station’s logo from their equipment when covering the demonstrators.
The mistreatment of women journalists is highly condemnable, as it is not just a security lapse on the government’s part but also indicates towards the suppression of press freedom in Lebanon. We are aware that freedom of the press and speech in the country fares better than the rest of the Middle East, which is why we expect better treatment of journalists, especially women journalists.
We hope and urge those responsible to ensure that safety and security of women journalists is not compromised. While those involved in the attacks, harassment and abuse, both offline and online, must be dealt with in a strict manner.
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The Coalition For Women In Journalism is a global organization of support for women journalists. The CFWIJ pioneered mentorship for mid-career women journalists across several countries around the world, and is the first organization to focus on the status of free press for women journalists. We thoroughly document cases of any form of abuse against women in any part of the globe. Our system of individuals and organizations brings together the experience and mentorship necessary to help female career journalists navigate the industry. Our goal is to help develop a strong mechanism where women journalists can work safely and thrive.
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