Trump finally condemns attacks on media after BBC incident

A Trump supporter shoves a BBC cameraman at the El Paso rally

Donald Trump has condemned attacks on the media after an incident involving a BBC cameraman at the US president’s rally in Texas on Monday.

A White House statement did not refer to the specific incident.

It said the president “condemns all acts of violence against any individual or group of people – including members of the press”.

The BBC’s Ron Skeans was shoved and sworn at by a man in a Make America Great Again cap in El Paso.

The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) later asked the White House to review security for media attending President Trump’s rallies.

In a letter, the BBC said the press area was unsupervised, and no security had tried to intervene during the incident.

The White House statement, from Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, added: “We ask that anyone attending an event do so in a peaceful and respectful manner.”

Mr Trump has been critical of media, which he has called the enemy of the people.

After Monday’s incident, Mr Trump’s campaign team thanked law enforcement for ejecting the unidentified man.

“An individual involved in a physical altercation with a news cameraman was removed from last night’s rally,” said Michael Glassner, the chief operating officer for Trump for President Inc.

“We appreciate the swift action from venue security and law enforcement officers.”

What happened at the rally?

The man, who a Trump campaign official said appeared to be drunk, gave Mr Skeans a “very hard shove”, according to the cameraman.

President Trump told supporters in El Paso, “we’re building the wall anyway”

Mr Skeans said the man almost knocked him and his camera over twice before he was wrestled away by a blogger.

President Trump saw the attack, checked they were well with a thumbs up and continued his speech after Mr Skeans returned the gesture.

BBC Washington producer Eleanor Montague and Washington correspondent Gary O’Donoghue were sitting in front of the camera.

Ms Montague said the protester had attacked other news crews but Mr Skeans “got the brunt of it”.

What did the BBC letter say?

In the letter to Ms Sanders, the BBC’s Americas Bureaux Editor Paul Danahar asked for a review of security arrangements for members of the press attending the president’s rallies.

Mr Danahar pointed out “that access into the media area last night was unsupervised and that no member of law enforcement or security stopped the attacker entering, intervened when he began his attack or followed up on the incident with our colleagues afterwards”.

What is the background?

The president went to El Paso, on the US border with Mexico, to campaign for a border wall, a divisive issue which caused the longest government shutdown in US history.

Ms Montague said the president had spoken of “fake news” and how the media misrepresented him in the run up to the assault.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr O’Donoghue said it was “an incredibly violent attack”.

Last August UN experts warned Mr Trump’s attacks “increase the risk of journalists being targeted with violence”, calling his rhetoric “strategic”.

New York Times publisher AG Sulzberger has urged the president to stop his media assaults.

Committee to Protect Journalists demands justice for Khashoggi, Trump to hold MBS accountable

On eve of deadline for White House to report to Congress on Khashoggi’s murder, rights groups demand ‘justice for Jamal’

CPJ said the US 'cannot stand passively on this case, and must draw the line and send a united message to Saudi Arabia' [Ola Salem/Al Jazeera]
CPJ said the US ‘cannot stand passively on this case, and must draw the line and send a united message to Saudi Arabia’ [Ola Salem/Al Jazeera]

Washington, DC – The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) demanded accountability on Thursday for the murder of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi – a day before the US government is due to report to Congress on the killing.

“The US Congress has rightfully condemned the murder and asked for answers from the Trump administration, which has insisted on doubling down on the ‘special’ relationship with the repressive kingdom and discounted the findings of his own intelligence agency,” Courtney Radsch, CPJ’s advocacy director, said outside the White House.

Khashoggi was killed on October 2, 2018, after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. His body was dismembered and has not been found.

Initially, Saudi Arabia denied any involvement in the killing. But following a series of contradictory statements, the kingdom admitted that a team of Saudi agents killed the writer inside the consulate.

According to media in the United States, the CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ordered the murder, an allegation Saudi Arabia has repeatedly denied. The White House has not included the crown prince on a list of sanctioned individuals they believe to have been involved in the murder.

Separately on Thursday, a UN-led inquiry found evidence suggesting the murder was a premeditated killing.

“The evidence presented to us during the mission to Turkey demonstrates a prima facie case that Mr Khashoggi was the victim of a brutal and premeditated killing, planned and perpetrated by officials of the State of Saudi Arabia and others acting under the direction of these state agents,” said UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, citing the “chilling and gruesome audio material” obtained by Turkish authorities. She said her team has not yet been able to independently authenticate the audio.

‘ISIS-like attack’

Courtney Radsch, advocacy director at CPJ, told Al Jazeera that journalists from the Middle East and elsewhere have expressed concern over their wellbeing following the murder, which she compared to an attack by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) “ISIS-like attack”.

UN rapporteur: Khashoggi murder ‘perpetrated’ by Saudi officials

Khashoggi “was killed and chopped up in an ISIS-like attack”, she said, adding that the murder, sends a chilling message that “no one is safe from Saudi Arabia’s reach”.

She also called for the release of the 16 journalists and writers held in Saudi prisons, 12 of whom were arrested after MBS became crown prince in June 2017.

CPJ said the US “cannot stand passively on this case, and must draw the line and send a united message to Saudi Arabia” over the murder.

Ahmed Bedier, president of United Voices of America and founder of the Justice for Jamal campaign, said the “mystery” was not who carried out the murder, but “why the US continues to cover up for Saudi Arabia’s sake”.

“It’s time the White House stops providing cover up for Khashoggi’s killers, specifically Mohammed bin Salman,” he said.

The US government has until Friday to submit a report about the killing under the Global Magnitsky Act, which was invoked on October 10, 2017, by a bipartisan group of senators.

Although the White House has sanctioned 17 Saudi individuals for their involvement in the murder, including two top aides to MBS, members of Congress have called for greater action to be taken against the kingdom and its leaders.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee leaders sent a second letter after the sanctions were announced, specifically asking if MBS ordered Khashoggi’s killing.

Calls for a Congress-led probe

Bedier said if Congress was not happy with Friday’s report, members of Congress should conduct their own investigation into the murder and travel to Turkey to listen to the audio recordings.

Senate starts debate on US role in Yemen

He added that members should hold congressional hearings on Saudi Arabia, specifically looking at the US ally’s human rights record and lack of press freedom.

Last year, the Khashoggi killing proved to be a tipping point for several politicians, who had already voiced frustration over US support for the Saudi-UAE war in Yemen. 

In December, the Senate passed a non-binding resolution condemning Saudi Arabia for its conduct in Yemen and for Khashoggi’s murder. Politicians have vowed to bring the measure and similar legislation up again this year.

On Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee advanced a bill that would end US involvement in the Yemen war. The “War Powers” resolution now goes to the House floor for debate.

Turkey’s President slams US ‘silence’ over Khashoggi, demands Saudi answers

Turkish president renews call for full investigation into killing of journalist at kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

Erdogan has long said the order to kill Khashoggi came from the highest levels of the Saudi government [File: Umit Bektas/Reuters]

Erdogan has long said the order to kill Khashoggi came from the highest levels of the Saudi government [File: Umit Bektas/Reuters]

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoganhas lashed out at the United States for not taking a tougher position against Saudi Arabia over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, as he demanded answers from the kingdom over the journalist’s killing.

“I cannot understand America’s silence when such a horrific attack took place, and even after members of the CIA listened to the recordings we provided,” Erdogan said in an interview aired by state broadcaster TRT on Sunday.

“We want everything to be clarified because there is an atrocity, there is a murder,” he added, calling the killing “not an ordinary one.”

Erdogan has long insisted that the order to kill Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul four months ago came from the highest levels of the Saudi government.

In the interview, Erdogan said the murder was planned by 22 people, 15 of whom arrived in Istanbul on two planes and visited the consulate on the day of the killing.

“What they [Saudi Arabia] say is ’22 people are arrested now’. Despite this, we have some information. They might have taken some of them out. They might be victims of traffic accidents. Because the system there is working very weird,” he said.

Last month, a trial opened in Riyadh of 11 defendants over the killing, including five people facing the death penalty. Several rights groups and international observers, however, have said it lacked credibility.

UN probe

Erdogan’s latest remarks came as Agnes Callamard, the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, on Sunday concluded a week-long trip to Turkey to gather information on the events surrounding Khashoggi’s murder four months ago.

Callamard is understood to have heard the grisly audio recordings of the Saudi journalist’s last moments, which are in Turkey’s possession and were previously shared with CIA Director ‘Bloody’ Gina Haspel, as well as Germany, France and Britain.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor and critic of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was murdered on October 2 soon after he entered the Istanbul-based consulate to collect documents for his planned wedding to a Turkish woman.

UN Khashoggi probe wraps up in Turkey: what next?

US intelligence agencies have reportedly concluded that Prince Mohammed, also known as MBS, ordered the assassination of Khashoggi, whose body is yet to be found.

In December, the US Senate passed a bill that directly pinned the blame for the murder on the crown prince and ordered the US military to cease all assistance to the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

US President Donald Trump, however, has repeatedly insisted there was no definitive evidence connecting MBS with the crime.

After giving contradictory statements about Khashoggi’s whereabouts, Saudi Arabia admitted he was killed inside its consulate and his body was dismembered.

The kingdom maintains Prince Mohammed – Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler – had no knowledge of the killing, calling it the result of a “rogue operation” carried out without his knowledge.

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Rep. Rashida Tlaib: “I won’t apologize for my comments about Trump—I still want to impeach him!”

JANUARY 08, 2019

Newly elected Democratic Congress-Woman  Rashida Tlaib of Michigan made headlines last week for declaring, “We’re going to go in there, and we’re going to impeach the motherfucker,” in reference to President Donald Trump. Tlaib made the comment at a Washington, D.C., bar, days after she made history last week when she and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota became the first Muslim women sworn in to Congress. Tlaib is part of the most diverse and most female class of representatives in U.S. history.

Pentagon Chief of Staff Resigns in Wake of Mattis Departure

JAN 07, 2019

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Pentagon Chief of Staff Kevin Sweeney announced he was resigning Saturday. Sweeney’s resignation comes just over two weeks after James Mattis stepped down as secretary of defense, publicly rebuking Trump’s foreign policy moves. He is the third senior Pentagon official to resign since Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw troops from Syria. Pentagon spokesperson Dana White also left her position last week. White was being investigated for ethics violations at the time of her departure.

Why is Netflix enabling the Saudi crackdown on press freedom?

Comedian Hasan Minhaj criticised the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and the war in Yemen in the episode blocked in Saudi Arabia [Screengrab: Patriot Act/Netflix]
Comedian Hasan Minhaj criticised the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and the war in Yemen in the episode blocked in Saudi Arabia

Netflix’s decision to comply with the request from Saudi Arabia to block the second episode of the original series Patriot Act, a news commentary show by comic Hasan Minhaj, is concerning both because of the precedent it sets and the signal it sends to autocrats around the world.

By enabling censorship in Saudi Arabia just months after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmanallegedly ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the company is restricting an important avenue of information on an issue of great importance in one of the most censored countries in the world. It is also signalling to other repressive states that it will comply with censorship requests and vague cybercrime laws that do not comply with international norms.

As the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), where I work, has documented, cybercrime laws are used to stifle independent and critical reporting and commentary throughout the Middle East and elsewhere. In a boilerplate statement, Netflix told me, “We strongly support artistic freedom worldwide and only removed this episode in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal request – and to comply with local law.”

READ MORE

Comedian Hasan Minhaj pokes fun at Saudi Netflix ban

The second episode of Patriot Act, which featured a searing 27-minute commentary eviscerating the Saudi political establishment over the Khashoggi murder, aired on October 28, but it was not until two months later that Netflix acquiesced to an official Saudi request and removed it. In its request to the company, the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission had cited Article 6 of its cybercrime law, according to reports.

The article stipulates that anyone found guilty of using computer networks to aid human trafficking, pornography and gambling, or drugs and impinging on public order or morals faces jail terms of up to five years and fines of up to three million riyals ($800,000).

Cybercrime legislation is often justified as a means of preventing terrorism and protecting children, but it is also used to restrict legitimate news and expression, especially when it is critical or embarrassing to those in power. According to CPJ’s 2018 annual census of journalists jailed for their work, at least 130 of the 251 journalists imprisoned globally worked online. Nearly all of them were imprisoned on anti-state charges, such as violations of vague cybercrime or anti-terrorism provisions.

In Nigeria, the cybercrime law has been used to harass and charge journalists who criticise the political and economic elite. In Jordan, Finance Minister Omar Malhas filed a criminal complaint under the cybercrime law against journalists who reported on allegations of tax evasion. And in Vietnam, the cybersecurity legislation that went into effect on January 1 will severely restrict online expression and allow the government to compel tech companies operating there to reveal their users’ personal information and censor online information on demand.

Apart from cybercrime laws, traditional journalism in the Gulf is highly restricted in a variety of other ways, according to CPJ research. Thus, citizens there rely on alternative platforms for their news. I myself experienced the severity of censorship in the region when I lost my job at the Saudi satellite channel Al Arabiya after reporting on safety problems at the Emirates’ national airline. I was forced to take it off the website, but I posted the story on my blog after I had left the country.

CPJ research has found that platforms like YouTube and Facebook are important outlets for addressing controversial issues and documenting events not covered by the Saudi media. The consulting firm McKinsey found in a report, obtained by The New York Times, that Twitter coverage of a set of economic reform measures announced by the crown prince outpaced coverage by the traditional news media or blogs two-to-one and that the sentiment expressed on social media was largely negative.

There is little journalistic independence for the media in Saudi Arabia, and those who attempt to report on issues like human rights or corruption are jailed, reportedly even tortured. Less than a year ago, columnist Saleh al-Shehi was sentenced to five years in prison for columns and TV appearances suggesting that the royal court was the source of corruption. Saudi bloggers Eman al-Nafjan and Nouf Abdulaziz, who wrote about ending the ban on women driving and expanding women’s rights, were arrested just a month before King Salman lifted the ban.

Despite the appalling levels of repression and censorship in Saudi Arabia, Netflix has sought to dodge the broader implications of its decision. Using the term “artistic freedom” in its statement seemed like an attempt to distance itself from its problematic compliance with laws that restrict news and commentary. But the company cannot claim that its service does not host journalistic content because the fact is that it carries numerous documentaries and it has become a news platform by deciding to fund and host shows, like Patriot Act, which are journalistic in nature.

Its decision to block the second episode of Patriot Act means it is complicit in censorship of journalism and commentary on issues of public importance in a country where the levels of repression were recently made so brutally clear with Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Netflix does not appear to track government takedown requests, at least not publicly, so it is unclear how common such censorship requests are. Despite being one of the world’s most popular streaming platforms, the company does not release a transparency report. Its spokesperson did not respond to a CPJ question on whether the company has or conducts any kind of human rights assessment.

Since 2010, more than 70 other tech platforms have published transparency reports, and it is clearly time for Netflix to do so as well. Netflix must come to terms with the fact that it is both a platform for and producer of journalistic content and adopt safeguards to protect public interest content from being censored in repressive countries.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera‘s editorial stance.

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