Protecting independent journalism and citizen journalism and ensuring free access to and free circulation of information, is essential to strengthening efforts aimed at fighting the coronavirus. Therefore, the policies and measures that states take in these circumstances must move further towards promoting and protecting freedom of expression and access to information. However, some nations have regarded health security as tantamount to national security, which has caused authorities to crackdown on freedom of expression and access to information. What is the picture like in a few Arab countries?
On April 28, the Algerian government announced in a decree the implementation of a complete quarantine, to include 11 provinces in the country. Then, on April 4 the Algerian President announced the implementation of a quarantine in all of Algeria’s provinces.That came as part of a framework of measures to counter thepandemiccrisis of the spread of the coronavirus.Quarantine measures included the suspension of flights and public transport and the closure of universities, schools, restaurants, and cafes.
However, the quarantine was not strictly enforced, prompting Algerian Prime Minister Abdel aziz Djerad to issue a memorandum to the security authorities requiring the compulsory implementation of the quarantine, the arrest of anyone who violates the quarantine without a clear justification, and the strict enforcement of the law.
The Algerian authorities haveapplied great caution and carein dealing with the publishing and press treatment of anything related to the coronavirusand, in this regard, have approved a set of regulatory and legal measures:
“On March 28, the Algerian government issued a new decree specifying additional measures to prevent and combat the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. On March 24, the Ministry of Communication also issued a directive for the media and the Penal Code was adapted so that news deemed inaccurate could be treated as defamation and slander.”
1. Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak on March 24, the Algerian Ministry of Communication has issued a directive to the media, stating that any news or publications that appear to be inaccurate with regard to the coronavirus will be dealt with very strictly.
2. Media covering the coronavirus are currently subject to legal and judicial treatment according to the Penal Code. Hence, news that the government considers false is made to fit as a crime of defamation and slander, and the accused is tried according to the articles related to defamation and libel, 296, 297, 298 of the Algerian Penal Code.The articles include a penalty of two to six months, with a fine of 25,000 to 50,000 Algerian dinars.
“The judicial authorities have prosecuted journalists following the publication of a report that questioned the validity of the [official] numbers of infections. Private media have been prevented from attending the daily Ministry of Health conference and restrictions have been placed on government media coverage.”
3. On April 2, 2020 the Algerian authorities prosecuted a publishing director, an editor-in-chief, and a journalist at the newspaper Al-Sawt Al-Akhar after they published a report that questioned the validity of the analysis carried out by the "Pasteur Institute" related to those infected with coronavirus. The three people involved are currently under judicial supervision.
4. Private media have been prevented from attending the daily press conference of the Ministry of Health on the coronavirus outbreak, and coverage has beenrestricted to government TV and radio.
5. Algerian health directorates in the provinces have been prevented from making any statement or press release regarding the coronavirus outbreak in their provinces, and only the Ministry of Health has been allowed to make press statements.
Journalist Selim Bouzaidi confirmed to "Maharat Magazine" that the Algerian authorities are using the link between health security and national security to counter the Algerian Hirak movement and restrict freedoms.For instance, the Algerian authorities have stated that calling for demonstrations in the era of coronavirus would threaten health security, and thus the national security of Algeria, according to Bouzaidi.
On March 17, 2020, the Jordanian monarch, King Abdullah II issued a royal decree to activate the "Defence Law of 1992" which grants the prime minister sweeping powers to restrict basic rights.However, Prime Minister Omar Al-Razzaz pledged to implement it "within its narrowest limits" and stated that he would not infringe political rights, freedom of expression or private property.
“On March 17, the Jordanian king issued a decree to activate the Defence Law, which grants the prime minister sweeping powers, for instanceto declare a state of emergency, restrict basic rights including freedom of expression and movement, monitor the media, and even to close media outlets. ”
Under the 1992 Defence Law, the Prime Minister may declare a state of emergency in response to exceptional circumstances that threaten national security or public safety, including the spread of a disease or pandemic.The law grants the prime minister powers to place restrictions on some rights, such as freedom of expression and movement, and it does not appear to include time limits.
The Prime Minister may issue orders to restrict movement, prevent public gatherings, and arrest anyone the government deems a threat to “national security or public order.”They can also confiscate any private or personal land or property, including money.The law also allows the government to monitor the content of newspapers, advertisements, and other media prior to their publication, and to censor media outlets and close them without justification.Violations of the Defense Law are punishable with imprisonment for up to three years or a fine of 3,000 Jordanian dinars (4,200 dollars), or both.
Likewise, the law refers in Article J to “monitoring messages, newspapers, publications, brochures, drawings, and all means of expression and advertising before they are published, and their seizing, confiscation, suspension, and the closure of the places where they are prepared.”
The effects of the Defense Law in terms of restrictions to the Jordanian media seemed clear after the arrest by the security services of the owner of the "Roya" satellite channel, Fares Sayegh, and its news director, Mohammed Al-Khaldi, over the broadcast of a TV report that caused a large outcry.The authorities decided to suspend al-Sayegh and al-Khaldi for 14 days pending an investigation, based on a warrant from the State Security Prosecutor (military court).
"Roya TV journalists were arrested for publishing a report about complaints regarding the lockdown measures, and the cabinet suspended the publication of all newspapers for two weeks."
The channel had released a video bringing to light the complaints of daily wage workers ("al-mayawma") about the disruption of life due to the coronavirus, without any alternatives or compensation from the government.One of the citizens said in the report that if the situation continues as it is, then the only options left before him will be theft and drug trafficking.
On March 17, 2020, the Jordanian cabinet also suspended the publication of all newspapers for a period of two weeks to limit the spread of the virus, and this was mentioned in an official statement made by the Jordanian Minister of Communications,Amjad Adaileh.Newspapers continued to be interrupted by the quarantine as the government requested that citizens stay in their homes.
Jordanian media and human rights expert Fadi Al-Qadi confirmed to "Maharat Magazine" that under the Defense Law, there is now a link established between health security and national security.This has become clear in the measures for people suspected of being infected with the coronavirus.The security services have been used to follow up with those who had been in contact with them, and strict penalties have been imposed against violators of the curfew, and movement has been prevented between the provinces and major cities.
Iraq has not declared a health emergency to counter the coronavirus, but instead has implemented a range of measures, including a total curfew that has been in place since March 17, 2020.That is in addition to closing the borders with Iran, closing all airports, and closing schools and universities.
The Iraqi authorities are trying to take advantage of the measures put in place to counter the corona virus in order to suppress the popular movement that started in October 2019.For instance, riot police are reducing the numbers of those sitting-in on a voluntary basis, in order to storm the various squares where there are sit-ins and put a stop to the popular movement, despite a series of effective prevention measures taken by the occupiers in order to maintain the safety of all.
Social media and news sites are also bearing witness to considerable scepticism about the official figureson infections with the coronavirus from the Iraqi authorities. These doubts has been confronted by penalties on the media, after the Media and Communications Commission of Iraq decided to suspend the licence of the "Reuters agency" office in the country for a period of three months, under the authority’s Law in Force 65. It also placed conditions on the licence granted to the agency and imposed a fine of 25 million Iraqi dinars (approximately 20,000 dollars), after the agency published a report on the number of coronavirus infections in Iraq.
“A state of emergency has not been declared, but measures were taken on March 17, including the imposition of a curfew. The authorities have used the Penal Code to criminalize the publication of information that includes criticism of official measures, under the charge of insulting health personnel.”
In a statement published on April 3, 2020, the Communications and Media Commission of Iraq expressed its "surprise and condemnation of what was published by Reuters news agency and its claim that the number of people infected with coronavirus in Iraq exceeds what has been recorded and declared."
Some journalists have reported a loss of confidence in government figures, based on prior experiences in similar crises.Dijlah satellite channel correspondent, Zaid Al-Fatlawi, emphasised to "Maharat Magazine" that confidence in the Iraqi government has been lost as a result of the many crises.
“The Media and Communications Authority suspended the license of the Reuters agency because of a report questioning the official figures of the injured, and also imposed a high fine. However, no journalists have been arrested for publishing news about the coronavirus.”
Nevertheless, Iraqi journalists rely on official sources for information on the coronavirus. Al-Fatlawi listed the reliable sources on which he depends to obtain information.First, he listens to information issued by the Central Crisis Cell for Combating the Coronavirus (the cell is headed by the Ministry of Health and also includes the Ministers of the Interior, Foreign Affairs, Transportation, and other ministries and authorities). Then he makes a quick and accurate search for additional information from government agencies (health, security, environmental [ministries]... and other relevant authorities).
However, the journalist relies from time to time on leaks from government officialsto expose information that has been covered up, such as the number of bodies building up in Baghdad hospitals due to being infected with the coronavirus, or laboratory results that are issued as positive and then come back negative for the same people days later.
Al-Fatlawi stressed the difficulty of verifying the information, due to issues gaining access to isolation zones.Added to this, there is concern among those with the virus that if they reveal that they are infected it will impact on their social life.
"Defamation" Muzzles Mouths
In recent times, the Iraqi authorities have used Article 433 of the Iraqi Penal Code, related to defamation, to restrict anyone who publishes any information that includes criticism directed at them. Al-Fatlawi believes that the authorities will use it again with the coronavirus crisis, by modifying the charge to insulting and defaming health personnel.
There are also broad articles of the constitution that contribute to an increasein the lack of transparency and in the concealment of information from the public and journalists, such as Chapter Two of the Iraqi constitution,on rights and freedoms.Article 17 states first:“Every individual shall have the right to personal privacy so long as it does not contradict the rights of others and public morals.”
Consequently, many patients have been compelled not to make statements the media, under the pretext of freedom and personal privacy, according to Al-Fatlawi.
In spite of the existence of these legal articles, as of the present time there have been no recorded cases of the harassment or the summoning for investigation of any journalist over the publishing of news about the coronavirus pandemic.The Government Crisis Cell also announced the exclusion of journalists from the quarantine of citizens, giving them the right to move between hospitals and isolation zones for those infected and those with suspected infections.
However, in general, Al-Fatlawi pointed out that "criticising health policy in the past has exposed many journalists, bloggers and activists to legal prosecution, arrest, and fines under the pretext that they are sharing false and wrong news, in view of the disgraceful health situation in the country.”
On the other hand, Khalid Ibrahim, director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, said that health security is one of the human rights of the citizen, and that there is no doubt that it is organically linked to the security of the country. If a pandemic was allowed to spread without taking immediate effective measures, it could lead to public disorder and the collapse of state institutions.However, this term is exploited in order to imprison journalists who are looking for news stories, and to harass them and prevent them from accessing accurate information. "
“Egypt has been in a state of emergency for three years. The Prime Minister has taken additional precautionary measures that have resulted in a further restriction of freedoms, with the Public Prosecution announcing the application of the Penal Code to the spreading of rumors."
The Egyptian authorities did not need to declare a state of emergency to counter the spread of the coronavirus.In fact, it has been in a state of emergency for three years, with the last extension made on January 14 2020, for a period of three months.
Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly has taken a series of precautionary measures in view of the mandate of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, which is stipulated in Law No. 162 of 1958 regarding the state of emergency. The foremost of these was the announcement of a curfew, the suspension of flights and the closure of schools and universities, in addition to public places.
These measures have been accompanied by further restrictions on freedoms, with the Egyptian Public Prosecution announcing tougher penalties for any news reports about the coronavirus "considered false". The Public Prosecution has used Article 80 (d), 102 bis, and 188 of the Penal Code.
These articles punish any Egyptian who publicly and intentionally circulates false news, information or rumors about the internal conditions of the country with imprisonment for a period of not less than six months and not more than five years, and a fine of not less than 100 Egyptian pounds and not more than 500 pounds, or one of these two penalties.
The Public Prosecution confirmed that, "in accordance with Article No. 188, anyone who maliciously publishes, by whatever means, false news, information, rumors or documents that are false or forged, or falsely attributed to a third party, if that would disturb the public peace, cause panic among the people, or harm the public interest, shall be punished by imprisonment for a period of not more than a year and a fine of not less than 5,000 pounds and not more than 20,000 pounds, or one of these two penalties. "
“The State Information Service withdrew the license of a Guardian correspondent and issued a warning to a New York Times correspondent for publishing information contradicting the official information. Activists were arrested on charges of spreading false news and information, linking them to public peace.”
This intensification has been clearly felt by the media.For instance, on March 17, 2020, the Information Service in Egypt decided to withdraw the license of the Guardian newspaper correspondent in Egypt, after the newspaper published a Canadian study confirming the spread of the coronavirus epidemic in Egypt.
In a press release issued by the Service, it also indicated that a "final warning" had been issued to the American "New York Times" correspondent in Cairo to refer to "official news broadcast sources about Egypt and adhere to professional guidelines."
The Egyptian security forces also arrested Dr. Laila Suief, Dr. Rabab El-Mahdi, the writer Ahdaf Soueif and the activist Mona Seif, as they organized a stand-in protest in front of the cabinet[building] to demand the release of those held in custody who had not been implicated in violence against the state.This, in view of the danger to their lives during the crisis of the spread of the novel coronavirus in prisons.They were referred to the Palace of the Nile Prosecution and investigated under the charge of publishing and circulating false news and information in Nile Palace misdemeanour case No. 1909 of 2020, and their release was ordered on a bail of 5,000 pounds each.
On the other hand, the linking of health security to national security was clear in the statement issued by the Public Prosecutor on March 28, 2020 regarding news reports published about coronavirus infections. It can be summarised as follows: "the Public Prosecution is closely following all news published in this regard, especially what is being circulated on social media. Some news reports are shared without verifying their authenticity, and this carries a risk, as it could disturb public security and peace. The Public Prosecution appeals to the whole community to be accurate in the circulation of news and information, and to verify their authenticity from official sources.”
Since February 20, the Bahraini authorities have announced a set of precautionary measures to counter the coronavirus.These measures include suspending flights and closing schools and universities, as well as public places.They are considered less stringent compared to other Gulf countries.
“On February 20, the Bahraini authorities announced precautionary measures against the virus. A public health law has been implemented that increases the penalty for anyone who violates government measures."
“The ministries concerned have provided information related to the crisis on their websites.”
The Bahraini authorities have provided a press conference hosted by the national team for countering the coronavirus, which is held on a daily basis to provide journalists with information on the latest developments in the spread of the coronavirus.The websites of the Ministries of Health, Interior and Trade have also been dedicated to providing information related to the crisis.
The journalist, Reem Khalifa, confirmed to "Maharat Magazine" that health security has been linked to the national security of Bahrain, where the Public Health Law is being implemented with severe penalties for those who violate government measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The Bahraini Cabinet has activated the most severe penalties stipulated in the Public Health Law No. 34of 2018, for those who breach the obligation to quarantine at home.The penalties range up to imprisonment for a period of not less than three months and a fine of not less than 1,000 dinars and not more than 10,000 Bahraini dinars, or one of these two penalties.
The UN-recognised Libyan Government of National Accord declared a state of emergency throughout the country on March 15, 2020, in accordance with Resolution No. 209 of the Libyan Presidential Council.The measures included closing the air and land borders, ports, public places, schools, and universities, leading to a complete curfew, in accordance with Resolution No. 277 of the Libyan Presidential Council.
“On March 15, the Libyan National Accord government declared a state of emergency and a complete curfew, and the speech declaring the emergency included a message to the media on the subject of accuracy. As for the parallel government of the authorities of eastern Libya, they have taken similar precautionary measures.”
The parallel government of the eastern Libyan authorities took "precautionary" measures similar to those of the Government of National Accord in Tripoli.
The speech by the Chairman of the Presidential Council of the Government of National Accord, Fayez al-Sarraj, that declared the state of emergency contained a message for the Libyan media on the necessity of ensuring accuracy and professionalism, on dealing with news from [only] official sources, and not publishing false or incorrect news.
Presidential Council Resolution 277, related to the total curfew, limited the freedom of journalists to cover the coronavirus epidemic, given that discretion is being applied to the granting of licenses to journalists during the curfew period.
Director of the Libyan news agency "Al-Ghayma", Tariq al-Houni, confirmed to "Maharat Magazine" that the committees formed to counter the coronavirus in the eastern and western regions do not include any members who are journalists or anyone concerned with issues of media coverage.All that these committees do is publish a daily statement on developments in the spread of the pandemic in Libya.
“Discretion is being applied to the granting of licenses to journalists during the curfew.”
Al-Houni noted that no journalist had been summoned for investigation during the coronavirus crisis, due to the nature of the division between the media in the eastern and western regions, which each follow the ideology of the authorities in their respective region.
Consequently, there are no other voices heard in these areas.As for the independent or neutral media, it is broadcasted from outside Libya.
On the other hand, al-Houni believes that health security is missing in Libya.As a result of uncontrolled borders, thousands of migrants flock to Libya en route to Europe.Although health security is essential to counter the coronavirus, it is not related to the national security of the country, which instead requires combined efforts and a united government, and those are missing in Libya, according to al-Houni.
On April 4, 2020, the Tunisian Parliament passed a law that strengthens the powers of Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh, who can now issue decrees for a period of two months.The law is intended to accelerate the adoption of measures aimed at countering and containing the novel coronavirus and its repercussions.
“On April 4, the Tunisian Parliament passed a law that strengthens the powers of the prime minister for a period of two months, and precautionary measures have been announced, including a partial curfew.”
The decision to grant greater powers to the Prime Minister was based on Article 70 of the Tunisian Constitution, which allows Parliament to delegate powers to the Prime Minister for a period not exceeding two months.
Tunisia announced a set of precautionary measures to counter the virus within the framework of a quarantine.The measures included suspending flights, closing schools and universities, as well as public places, and imposing a partial curfew.
The government measures related to accessing information about the coronavirus crisis have gained the approval of journalists.These measures are various, according to journalist Hanan Zabees.
Zabees confirmed to "Maharat Magazine" that since the beginning of the crisis the Ministry of Health has started organizing daily press conferences to provide figures on infections and deaths.It has also created a website dedicated to the coronavirus to raise awareness and provide numbers and information.
A special committee has also been established to fight the coronavirus, which has been working since the first announcement of an infection with the virus, and very transparently provides citizens and journalists with information about the crisis.In general, Tunisian citizens have confidence in the official figures, and these numbers are also consistent with what has been announced by hospitals and analysis laboratories.
As for the ease of access to information related to coronavirus, Zabees said that "there are no laws that restrict the collection of information in Tunisia.On the contrary, official information is available, and there is transparency in the way it is provided to the press and citizens.There is just a warning in place against taking information from unofficial sources, as that could cause confusion among citizens."
“The Ministry of Health has made information available to journalists on its website and a special committee has been created to transparently provide citizens with information. No journalists have been prosecuted, and the Press Syndicate plays an active role in countering false news, including the dismissal of journalists.”
During the coronavirus crisis, the Tunisian authorities have not summoned for investigation or imprisoned any journalist or civil activist for criticizing the performance of the Ministry of Health. Zabees pointed out that the publication of false news is being dealt with by the Tunisian press body.The Press Syndicate recently dismissed three journalists for broadcasting false news on a private TV channel.
On this matter, Saloua Ghazouani, Director of the "Article 19" organisation in the Middle East, confirmed to “Maharat Magazine” that what can be observed with regard to Tunisia and the region in general is that during this exceptional period when we are confronting this little known virus, citizens, including activists, have become more accepting of the measures taken by governments, including those that may affect their rights and freedoms, out of fear for their health from this unknown virus.
Ghazouani indicated that the organisation has not recorded any official positions, decisions or orders in Tunisia that consider a violation of health security as a violation of national security. However, this accepting behavior, which is sometimes supportive of government decisions and differs from a citizenship approach based on accountability and criticism of officials and rulers, represents a great danger to the situation of freedoms and rights in Tunisia and the region.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, the Syrian authorities have announced a set of precautionary measures to counter the virus.These measures include suspending flights, closing schools and universities, in addition to public places, and the imposing of a partial curfew, which lasts for up to 18 hours at the weekend.
"The Syrian authorities have announced a set of precautionary measures and the government news agency SANA announced that the Ministry of Health should be the only source of information for journalists."
On February 22, the Ministry of Public Health announced that the state news agency, SANA, would be the only source of information about the virus.Consequently, the margins were narrowed in the Syrian journalists’ search for sources of information.
On this matter, human rights activist Faris Yahya assured "Maharat Magazine" that the measures taken by the Syrian authorities have not directly affected freedom of the press and publishing. However, it has become clear to journalists working in areas under the control of the Syrian regime that it is better to discuss the positive aspects of the measures and avoid talking about the negatives.In light of this, information sources have been limited to official sources only.
“Journalists have discussed the positive side of the measures.”
Yahya pointed out that the Syrian press exists in an ongoing state of restrictions on freedoms due to the tightening of security prior to the coronavirus crisis, and today that situation is reflected in how the media deals with the crisis.
However, the restrictions on media during the coronavirus crisis have not been linked to health and national security, according to Yahya.This is because the Syrian authorities have confirmed that the spread of the coronavirus in Syria is on a small scale.Additionally, media engagement has avoided magnifying the spread of the pandemic, in an attempt to promote a positive and glowing picture of the regime.
On March 15, 2020, the Omani authorities took several precautionary measures similar to those that have been put in place in the rest of the Gulf nations.For instance, the Supreme Committee for Dealing with the Coronavirus decided on several measures, including suspending flights, closing schools and universities, in addition to public places, and imposing a partial curfew in the Omani capital, Muscat, due to increased infections there.
“The Omani authorities took several precautionary measures on March 15 and put in place a partial curfew.”
In Oman, on March 22, 2020, the Supreme Committee for Dealing with the Coronavirus ordered all newspapers, magazines, and other publications to stop printing and distribution.The sale and circulation of newspapers, magazines and publications imported to the country were also prohibited.
A campaign was also launched on social media under the name "#Freedom_For_Ibrahim_Al-Ma'mari". Many activists in Oman have demanded the immediate release of the Omani journalist Ibrahim Al-Ma’amari, the head of the Omani daily newspaper, Al Zaman, in light of the circumstances of the spread of the coronavirus in Oman.
“On March 22, the Supreme Committee for Dealing with the Coronavirus, ordered all newspapers and magazines to stop printing and distribution, and their sale was prohibited.”
On July 28, 2016, the Omani security forces arrested Ibrahim Al-Ma'amari, after Al Zaman newspaper published a news article in its issue issued on July 26, 2016 entitled "Higher Authorities Shackle the Hand of Justice", which highlighted the corruption of some senior officials and their interference in judicial rulings.
On the other hand, the journalist Mukhtar Al-Hinai confirmed to “Maharat Magazine” that health security in Oman is closely linked to national security. Currently, Omani forces, represented by the police and the army, are involved in treating infected people through medical services, and they have also provided places of shelter and street sterilization. In general, the Omani authorities are particularly concerned with the health sector and the Ministry of Health, along with the Ministry of Education, occupies the top of the pyramid of spending in the state's general budget.
On March 20, 2020, Morocco announced the imposition of a health state of emergency and an indefinite period of restrictions on movement in the country, as a way to keep the coronavirus "under control", according to the Moroccan Ministry of Interior.The imposition of a health state of emergency limits the movement of citizens and "stipulates that no-one can leave their places of residence without an official document issued to them in some specific cases by state officials."
“On March 20, 2020, Morocco announced the imposition of a state of health emergency and restricted movement in the country indefinitely.”
The government's declaration of a health state of emergency came within the framework of what is permitted by Article 81 of the Moroccan constitution.Article 81 of the 2011 constitution states: "The government can adopt, in the interval of the sessions, with the agreement of the commissions concerned of the two Chambers, decree-laws which must be, in the course of the following ordinary session of the Parliament, submitted for ratification."
“The bill of the decree-law is deposited with the Bureau of the Chamber of Representatives. It is examined successively by the concerned commissions of the two Chambers with a view to reaching a common decision within a time of six days. In default of this, the decision is taken by the commission concerned of the Chamber of Representatives.”
The Moroccan government drafted a decree-law related to the health state of emergency, in which any violation of orders and decisions issued by the public authorities in the implementation of the health state of emergency is punished by imprisonment from one to three months and a fine ranging between 300 and 1,300 dirhams, or one of these two penalties. In addition, it imposes the same punishment for anyone who obstructs the implementation of these decisions through violence, threats, fraud, or coercion, and anyone who incites others to do so.
“An activist has been arrested on charges of spreading incitement to violate a health emergency because of posts about the impact of the quarantine on the deteriorating economic situation. The Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports also announced the suspension of the publication and distribution of printed newspapers until further notice, as they are considered a means for the transmission of the virus.”
The Moroccan authorities arrested a young man, Hamid Al-Naimi, in the province of Safi, on charges of inciting a violation of the health state of emergency, and he was sentenced to three months in prison and a fine of 1,300 dirhams (130 dollars) was imposed.The arrest came after Al-Naimi published a video in which he expressed the harsh economic and social situation of the population of Al-Dawar (a low-income neighbourhood) due to the quarantine imposed in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
On 22 March, 2020, the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, Hassan Abyaba, announced in a statement that the publication and distribution of printed newspapers was suspended until further notice, as it is consider a means for the transmission of the virus, and this was within the framework of the measures taken to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
On February 24, 2020, the head of the Center for Government Communication and government spokesperson, Tareq Al-Mizrem, announced the implementation by all government agencies of the health emergency plan, which had been prepared since the beginning of the novel coronavirus outbreak globally.The plan included gradual measures to suspend flights, shut down schools and universities, public places, and restaurants, along with the imposition of a night curfew.
“On February 24, the Kuwaiti government announced a health emergency plan, along with a night curfew.”
The Kuwaiti authorities have announced greater restrictions of freedoms, especially following the increased measures that have been taken by the Kuwaiti authorities to counter the coronavirus.For instance, the Kuwaiti authorities have used the "Cyber crime" Law issued in 2015 to restrict freedoms in the era of coronavirus.
The law includes harsh penalties for more than 16 cyber crimes, with prison terms ranging from one to 10 years and financial fines ranging from 1,000 to 50,000 Kuwaiti dinars. One of the most prominent articles of the law is:"The criminalization of criticism of the Emir of Kuwait and the political system on the Internet, and of the insulting of Kuwait’s relations with other countries.”
“The Kuwaiti authorities have used the cyber crime law to restrict freedoms. People have been arrested for criticizing government measures.”
In this context, the Kuwaiti authorities arrested the famous tweeter known as "Marxist Supporter of the People (Al-Markasi Naseer al-Sha'ab)", who has more than 100,000 followers.A Kuwaiti security source said that "the detectives managed to identify the suspect, arrest him, and during the investigation he confessed that he was the account holder accused of criticizing government agencies in a satirical way," according to the Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Anba.
The security services in Kuwait also arrested an Egyptian resident after he criticized the Kuwaiti authorities for their measures to ban flights, in video clips that circulated.
The Ministry of Interior confirmed the arrest of the resident via its Twitter account. After identifying him and his place of residence, he was detained and referred to the Public Prosecution on charges of "misusing a phone and threatening harm to others."
On the other hand, human rights activist Nawaf Al-Hendal indicated to "Maharat Magazine" that the Kuwaiti authorities have made a link between health and national security, especially if any news about the coronavirus is published without reference to an official source. Al-Hendal stressed that the greatest threat is towards those foreign residents in Kuwait who criticize any measures, and the penalties can even include deportation from Kuwait.
The division of Yemen between Sana'a and ِAden has not affected the adoption of a package of precautionary measures to counter the coronavirus. On March 14, the legitimate Yemeni government took a series of precautionary and preventive measures to stop the arrival and spread of the coronavirus in the country. These came within the context of an official decision issued by Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed.
“The legitimate Yemeni government and the “National Salvation Government”of the Houthis approved a series of precautionary measures in March."
The measures included the establishment of an operations room and the provision of the necessary medical supplies, in addition to plans to provide ports of entry by land, air or sea with medical teams, aiming to inspect all arrivals to Yemen.
For its part, the Houthi "National Salvation Government" decided on a series of measures that included stopping all flights arriving at Sanaa airport.
Journalist Aseel Sariya confirmed to "Maharat Magazine" that health security in Yemen has been linked to national security, through the measures taken by the Yemeni authorities in Sana'a and Aden.However, this link has not affected the work of journalists, which has not been restricted, because there is only one case of the virus.Consequently, there is no health and security concern in Yemen, at least for the moment.
“On March 23, a decision was issued to suspend the publication of hard copies of government and private newspapers and to rely solely on electronic copies.”
On March 23, Muammar Al-Aryani, Minister of Communications for the government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, issued Resolution No. 6 for the year 2020, which states in its first article, “The publication of hard copies of government and private newspapers will be suspended and only electronic copies will be issued."This is for the period from March 25 to April 12, 2020, as stated in Article 2 of the Resolution, as part of the package of preventive and precautionary measures taken by the government to counter the coronavirus.
“The government announced a general mobilization on March 15, refusing to declare a state of emergency. However, the Minister of the Interior then reversed his decision and prevented people from going out onto the streets after 7 pm. It later made a further reversal, implementing a system for cars according to odd and even [number plates].”
The government announced a general mobilization on March 15, refusing to declare a state of emergency.However, the Minister of the Interior then reversed his decision and prevented people from going out onto the streets after 7 pm, later implementing a system for cars according to odd and even [number plates].
These measures are being accepted by citizens despite their illegality, especially since the implementation of the curfew was not issued by a clear and explicit decree by the Council of Ministers.The system for cars has hindered the movement of journalists, who have been excluded from the curfew and the regulation of travel.
The press cards file has been reopened, especially for those working for websites and independent journalists.Most of these journalists are not affiliated with the Press Editors Syndicate and do not have a press card that gives them the same rights as their colleagues to pursue their journalistic work amid the coronavirus crisis.
"The Ministry of Information has provided journalists with a special website for coronavirus developments. The only case of an activist who questioned the official figures being summoned for investigation was when Hadi Murad was summoned for the crime of libel and slander against the Minister of Health because of a post in which the Minister was described as a criminal, but the Minister later retracted the allegation.”
The Ministry of Information has provided reporters with a special website on coronavirus developments, which has included information about infections, as well as providing citizens with preventive measures and the latest global news on the virus.
The only case of activists who questioned the official figures being summoned for investigation was when the Hadi Murad was summoned for the crime of libel and slander against the Minister of Health because of a post in which the Minister was described as a criminal, but the Minister later retracted the allegation.