Lebanon: Safety Of Women Journalists In Jeopardy Amidst Protests

The Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ), a global organisation of support for women journalists, has issued a statement expressing concern about the treatment of women journalists during the ongoing protests in Beirut.

Protests in Lebanon erupted after tax measures by Lebanese government were imposed on October 17. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets against the political leadership of Lebanon alling for economic and social reforms.

The CFWIJ has said that their monitoring of the protests showed that women journalists were being harassed and abused in an attempt to stop them from doing their job. The group has also condemned the harassment and threats directed at women journalists and has urged Lebanese authorities to ensure their safety and security.

Moreover, it has stated that it was worrying that women journalists were facing harassment and threats while trying to report on ground and on digital platforms. Their trolling in online spaces involved verbal abuse and threats of physical abuse along with death threats.

A journalist on the ground in Beirut, Luna Safwan, told CFWIJ, “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.”

In one such incident of violence against women journalists, during a clash between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal Movement, journalist Nawal Berry of MTV Lebanon News was cornered in a building by thugs for almost an hour. She had to be smuggled out of the building as many were throwing rocks at her and she was being physically attacked. Reports of her camera being smashed and microphone being robbed have also been received.

The CFWIJ has stated that women with cameras were especially harassed. According to the group, recently, 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.

Luna also told CFWIJ, “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 further informed CFWIJ that an active smear campaign had also taken place against women journalists who dared to speak against the president and the powerful political parties in Lebanon such as Hezbollah. An example of this, according to the group, was Dima Sadek, a prominent journalist who had been attacked and impeded during her coverage of the protests.

Dima’s smartphone was stolen while she was filming the protests on the ground and she has faced harassment as well. The journalist’s mother also received threatening phone calls and suffered a stroke due to the stress. Dima has blamed Hezbollah supporters for the harassment she had 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 the reason 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.

The statement by CFWIJ also quoted Leila Molana Allen, France 24’s correspondent in Lebanon, who shared that most of the harassment had been directed towards local women journalists who worked 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.

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 is now changing and diversifying,” she added.

Kiran added that it was the responsibility of Lebanese authorities to protect the press and not doing so was rather reckless.

Moreover, there have also been reports of attacks on journalists working for OTV, a pro-government news channel. The journalists were said to have removed their station’s logo from their equipment when covering the demonstrators.

The CFWIJ has stated that the mistreatment of women journalists was highly condemnable, as it was not just a security lapse on the government’s part but also indicated the suppression of press freedom in Lebanon.

The group has said that they were aware that freedom of the press and speech in the country fared better than the rest of the Middle East, which is why they expected better treatment of journalists, especially women journalists.

Furthermore, the group has expressed the hope that those responsible should ensure the safety and security of women journalists and those involved in the harassment and abuse were dealt with in a strict manner.

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