NEW YORK: As President Joe Biden departs for a visit to the Middle East from July 13 to 16, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) urges Biden to mount a robust defense of press freedom with the leaders of Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where journalists’ ability to report freely and safely is either sorely lacking or entirely under assault.
In a Sunday op-ed in The Washington Post, Biden stated that “fundamental freedoms are always on the agenda,” and will be during this trip. But without concrete goals, this broad claim is far from enough.
“President Biden’s stated priorities of security and stability are nearly impossible without an informed citizenry,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “Factual, independent reporting touches people’s daily lives, keeping disinformation from sowing chaos and extremism. Too many journalists in the region are imprisoned or killed for probing the root causes of instability and for applying a critical lens that holds leaders to account. This must end. There is no better way to champion free and independent media than for the president to demand accountability in places where it is under threat.”
During this trip Biden is expected to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who, according to U.S. intelligence, was implicated in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Biden will also meet with Israeli authorities who refuse to launch a criminal investigation into the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and with Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, whose government routinely imprisons journalists. Egypt was the world’s third-worst jailer of journalists in CPJ’s 2021 prison census.
CPJ reiterates previous calls on the Biden administration to immediately take these basic actions to defend journalists and press freedom:
• Grant the family of slain Palestinian-American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, their request to meet with the president during his trip.
• Call for the immediate release of the dozens of journalists in Egypt and in Saudi Arabia, including (Egypt), who has surpassed 100 days on a hunger strike.
• Call on Saudi authorities to lift travel bans on formerly imprisoned journalists and dissidents, including Raif Badawi, and on Egypt to cease its post-release harassment of journalists such as Egyptian photojournalist and CPJ International Press Freedom Award honoree Mahmoud Abou Zeid (Shawkan), who is still being forced to spend nights in police custody in spite of being released from prison on March 4, 2019.
The United States is a founding member of the Media Freedom Coalition, a grouping of 52 countries that have pledged to advocate for media freedom domestically and internationally.