In its annual report, which was published on 15 December, media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) disclosed that while fewer journalists were imprisoned this year, the number held hostage increased, noting that China and Egypt were named the worst nations for jailing media workers.
According to the RSF, the number of journalists put in prison fell fourteen percent in 2015 from last year. Furthermore, fifty-four professional journalists were held hostage in 2015, an increase of 35 percent from the last year. The reports points to Syria as the country with the highest number of reporters in the hands of extremist or criminal groups at 26. The report also indicates that the so-called Islamic State (IS) group alone holds eighteen journalists, largely in Syria and neighbouring Iraq.
The report also described China as “the world’s biggest prison for journalists,” followed by Egypt, adding that Iran and Eritrea were also condemned for jailing members of the press.
RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire noted that “a full-blown hostage industry has developed in certain conflict zones.” He highlighted Yemen as being the newest problem country for reporters, with thirty-three journalists kidnapped by Houthi militias and al-Qaeda militants in 2015, compared with just two in the previous year. According to Deloire, “we are very alarmed by the increase in the number of reporters held hostage in 2015. The phenomenon is above all linked to the big surge in abductions of journalists in Yemen.”
Meanwhile lawless Libya had the largest number of journalists reported missing this year. With eight members of the press unaccounted for, the RSF noted that the political climate “makes it harder to conduct investigations to locate missing journalists.”
According to a Somali official and a maritime expert, Somali pirates have hijacked an Iranian fishing vessel with fifteen crew members on board. The hijacking comes midst warnings that piracy in the Indian Ocean region may be making a comeback.
Abdirizak Mohamed Dirir, director of the anti-piracy and seaport ministry in Puntland, a semi-autonomous region in Somalia, has disclosed that “pirates hijacked an Iranian-flagged fishing vessel with its 15 crew from near Eyl,” a city located in northern Somalia. John Steed, East African region manager for Oceans Beyond Piracy, has also confirmed the hijacking, adding that the vessel is called Muhammidi.
While there are still occasional cases of sea attacks, piracy near Somalia’s coast has largely subsided in the past three years. This is mainly due to shipping firms hiring private security details coupled with the presence of international warships.
Iran’s judiciary has announced that a verdict has been issued in the trial of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian on charges that include espionage.
While officials have not given the details of the judgement, they hinted at a conviction. Appearing on state television late on Sunday, judiciary spokesman Gholamhoseyn Mohseni-Ezhei stated, “he (Jason Rezaian) has been convicted, but I don’t have the verdict’s details,” adding that “the time for an appeal is not yet over. So the court waits and if it doesn’t receive an appeal…the verdict becomes final.” Mr Mohseni-Ezhei disclosed that Mr Rezaian and his lawyer were eligible to appeal the conviction with twenty days.
Jason Rezaian, 39, has been detained in Iran for more than a year on charges, which the Post has dismissed as absurd. Washington Post foreign editor, Douglas Jehl, has called the ruling “vague” and stated that it was unclear if Mr Rezaian had been sentenced.” He disclosed that “we’ve now heard from the Iranian government today’s (Sunday) announcement that a verdict has been issued in Jason’s case, but that its not final and that its subject to appeal…That’s really all we know, and unfortunately it reflects a continued pattern of mystery, opacity and gamesmanship surrounding the way Iran has handled this case…The only thing that’s been clear from the beginning is Jason’s innocence. Everything else has been under a real shadow of darkness.”
Mr Rezaian faces between 10 to 20 years in prison. He, along with his wife, who is also a journalist, and two photojournalists, were arrested in July 2014 in Iran. However Mr Rezaian was the only one of the group not to be released. Mr Rezaian, who was the Post’s Tehran bureau chief since 2012, was charged with espionage and distributing propaganda against the Islamic Republic. He was tired in four hearing behind closed doors, with the last one occurred in August. He is a dual Iranian-American citizen.
On Tuesday, major powers reached an agreement with Tehran aimed at ensuring that the country does not obtain a nuclear bomb and which will also open up the country’s stricken economy.
The agreement, which was reached on day 18 of marathon talks in Vienna, is aimed at ending a 13-year standoff over Iran’s nuclear ambitions after repeated diplomatic failures and threats of military action. Both Iran and the European Union have hailed the agreement as a new chapter of hope for the world. At the start of a final meeting to formally sign off on the accord, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini stated, “I think this is a sign of hope for the entire world and we all know this is very much needed in this time,” adding, “it is a decision that can open the way to a new chapter in international elations and show that diplomacy, coordination, cooperation can over come decades of tensions and confrontation.” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stated that the agreement is a “historic moment,” noting, “we are reaching an agreement that is not perfect for anybody but it is what we could accomplish and it is an important achievement for all of us.” The agreement effectively places strict limits on Iran’s nuclear activities for at least a decade and calls for stringent UN oversight, with world powers hoping that this will make any attempts to make an atomic bomb virtually impossible. In return, international sanctions will be lifted and billions of dollars in frozen assets will be unblocked. The agreement, which was built on a framework in April is US President Barack Obama’s crowning foreign policy achievement and comes six years after he told Iran’s leaders that if they “unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.” The agreement may also lead to further cooperation between Washington and Tehran.
The head of the UN atomic watchdog announced Tuesday that he has signed with Iran a “roadmap” for probing suspected efforts to develop nuclear weapons, a key part of an overall accord with major powers. Ahead of the expected announcement of the historic agreement with major powers, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Yukya Amano stated that he “…just signed the roadmap between the Islamic republic of Iran and the IAEA for the clarification of past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran’s nuclear programme,” adding that he aims to issue a report on the watchdog’s investigation by 15 December. According to Amano, the roadmap “sets out a clear sequence of activities over the coming months, including the provision by Iran of explanations regarding outstanding issues. It provides for technical expert meetings, technical measures and discussions, as well as a separate arrangement regarding the issue of (Iranian military base) Parchin,” adding “this should enable me to issue a report setting out the Agency’s final assessment of possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme, for the action of the IAEA board of Governors, by 15 December 2015.” The wider accord between six major powers and Iran is expected to be announced in Vienna later on Tuesday.
On 23 January, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah passed away at the age of 90. His crown was immediately passed to his younger half-brother King Salman. He takes the royal reins at a time when Yemen is experiencing government upheaval, tensions with Iran are extremely high, the threat of ISIS is increasing and some OPEC allies are calling for a shift in policy. Here are some facts about the new leader.
King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, born 31 December 1935. He was named successor to the throne in 2012. Salman had been chairing cabinet meetings for months as King Abdullah grew more ill, and began representing the kingdom as he travelled for state visits in place of Abdullah. In 2011, he was appointed Saudi’s Minister of Defence. He favours a positive relationship with the West and is responsible for the nation’s joining of the US-led coalition to strike ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Prior to this role, Salman was the governor of Riyadh province for nearly 50 years, working to attract tourism, capital projects and foreign investment. Under his tenure, the province grew from 200,000 to seven million inhabitants. His tenure was noted for good governance and lack of corruption. Salman holds stake in one of the country’s largest media groups, and reportedly maintains relationships with a number of prominent journalists in the country. Saudi Arabia scores 84 (100 being the worst) on a press freedom index.
Salman is known to have provided an estimated $25million a month to the Afghan mujahedeen during the peak of the anti-Soviet conflict, before American financial assistance arrived. He is also known to have helped raise money for Bosnian Muslim in the war with Serbia.
One of his first messages to the 28 million citizens of Saudi Arabia is that he will continue the policies of his older brother. However some believe that Salman is less likely to be focused on social reform. An intercepted 2007 ambassador cable published by Wikileaks states, “[Salman] pointed out that democracy should not be imposed. He said that the KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] is composed of tribes and regions and if democracy were imposed, each tribe and region would have its political party.”
At the age of 79, he is suffering health issues. It is known that the monarch has suffered a stroke which left limited movement in his left arm. There have been persistent speculation that Salman suffers from dementia and the Economist reports he’s believed to be suffering from Alzheimer’s. Saudi media, with its close ties to the monarchy, does not publish information about the ailments of leaders, but these have been strongly denied by the palace. The number of meetings on the King’s official schedule suggests these prognoses may be overstated. However some argue that his ambition to maintain stability for his country could be superseding his health concerns. His successor, who was appointed in 2013, is his half-brother, 69 year old Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, who was partially educated at the Royal Air Force College.
Salman’s most critical issue now is addressing the turmoil in Yemen, which borders the kingdom in the south. In addition to the threat of penetration by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Yemen’s Houthi movement has taken de facto control of the nation after the president and cabinet stepped down last week. The group signed an agreement on 27 January to form a coalition government, however the Shiite rebel fighters are heated rivals to Saudi Arabia’s Sunni government. Salman may seek to engage more proactively in Yemen in order to contain Iranian influence while encouraging an inclusive government.
In Tehran, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has pushed for better ties between the two countries. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has visited the kingdom for Abdullah’s funeral and the formal paying of respects. However, Tehran may view the new monarch as unwilling to engage in détente, particularly in light of the kingdom’s perception of Iranian support of the Houthis (which Tehran has denied) and their support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom the Saudis are opposed to. Bernard Haykel, professor of near east studies at Princeton, has said, “Salman is quite hawkish on Iran. He’s personally quite hawkish. The Iranians would have to do a lot for him to change his policy.”