US journalist freed in Lebanon after call by rights groups

US journalist freed in Lebanon after call by rights groups
Nada Homsi, a freelance American journalist who was detained in Beirut last month, gestures as she speaks during an interview with AP, in Beirut on Wednesday. (AP)
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Updated 08 December 2021

US journalist freed in Lebanon after call by rights groups

US journalist freed in Lebanon after call by rights groups
  • Nada Homsi, the journalist, said after her release that her arrest was part of an intimidation campaign used by Lebanon's security agencies against foreign journalists
  • Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said Homsi was arrested without a judicial order on Nov. 16

BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities freed Wednesday a freelance American journalist who was detained in Beirut last month. The release came just hours after two international human rights groups called her detention arbitrary and demanded that she be set free.
Nada Homsi, the journalist, said after her release that her arrest was part of an intimidation campaign used by Lebanon’s security agencies against foreign journalists.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said Homsi was arrested without a judicial order on Nov. 16 by members of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate. The reasons for the raid remain unknown and her detention is now arbitrary, the groups had said.
“I feel good that I’m free but I shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place,” Homsi told The Associated Press, adding that Lebanese security agencies are “going after foreign journalists so that they can’t cover things that are happening in Lebanon.”
Since Lebanon’s economic meltdown began two years ago, many foreign and local journalists have reported on widespread corruption among the country’s political class, which has been running the small nation since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.
“Nada is at home and the decision to deport her has been dropped,” Homsi’s lawyer, Diala Chehade, told the AP, adding that all her papers and documents were given back to her.
Earlier, Chehade said that security force that raided Homsi’s apartment found a small amount of cannabis. Chehade said the officers then called the public prosecutor, who issued an arrest warrant for Homsi and her partner, a Palestinian national. The officers confiscated her electronics and some documents, she said.
General Security members are deployed at Lebanon’s border crossings, ports and the country’s only international airport, and the department usually deals with foreigners by issuing visas and residency permits.
“Not only did General Security officers raid Homsi’s apartment without producing a judicial warrant, but they also violated her rights in detention by denying her access to a lawyer,” said Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Chehade said Homsi lives in Beirut’s predominantly Christian neighborhood of Achrafieh and had earlier this year raised a Palestinian flag on her apartment. This angered a district administrator who complained to the Lebanese army. Army intelligence members then came to the apartment and asked Homsi to remove the flag, which she did, Chehade said.
Homsi wrote a post on her Facebook account detailing the flag incident in May, her lawyer said. “I believe this was the motive that led to the raid,” Chehade said, adding that they found the cannabis during the raid.
The two rights groups said that although the public prosecutor ordered her release on Nov. 25, General Security issued a deportation order for her and “continues to detain her arbitrarily.”
On her Twitter account, Homsi writes that she is currently working for National Public Radio and usually writes about Syria and Lebanon. Homsi has worked with several Arab and international outlets, including most recently, NPR.
General Security officers had continued to insist that Homsi was being detained “for security reasons,” but they have failed to provide any details to Chehade to allow her to prepare a defense, the group said. They added that no security or military charges have been filed against Homsi, but she was charged for consumption of drugs.
Chehade filed a request to release Homsi on Nov. 25, and on the same day, the Beirut Public Prosecutor ordered her release. However, General Security continued to detain Homsi under the pretext that she was working in the country without a proper work permit.
Chehade said General Security officials told her Homsi is under arrest for security reasons, without saying what the reasons are.
“The continuation of the arrest is either a stubborn act by General Security or a deliberate policy that they have done with other foreigners before” to deport them, Chehade said.


Six Saudis make list of Arab world’s most inspirational businesswomen

Princess Lamia Bint Majed Al-Saud
Princess Lamia Bint Majed Al-Saud
Updated 34 min 51 sec ago

Six Saudis make list of Arab world’s most inspirational businesswomen

Princess Lamia Bint Majed Al-Saud
  • Princess Lamia Bint Majed Al-Saud among 50 recognized by Arabian Business magazine

LONDON: Six trailblazing Saudis have been named among Arabian Business magazine’s 50 most inspirational businesswomen.

The list, published last week, recognizes women who have used their influence, experience and ambition to make a mark in the region.

All of the Saudi women honored have made a significant contribution to the Kingdom’s evolving landscape, in fields as diverse as architecture and philanthropy.

Among them was Princess Lamia Bint Majed Al-Saud, the secretary general and member of the board of trustees at Alwaleed Philanthropies, who is regarded as a pioneer of women’s empowerment in Saudi Arabia.

Winner of the Achievement in Philanthropy prize at the Arab Woman of the Year Awards in 2017, the princess launched her own publishing company in 2003, which now produces three magazines from Dubai, Cairo and Beirut.

Given that female empowerment in the Kingdom is an integral part of Saudi Vision 2030, it was no surprise to see Mae Al-Mozaini, founder and CEO of The Arab Institute for Women’s Empowerment, on this year’s Arabian Business list.

Al-Mozaini is also the founder of Nusf, a social enterprise dedicated to helping advance the economic and social well-being of women across the Arab world.

Ghada Othman Alrumayan, group chief marketing and communications officer at ROSHN, was another inspiring business leader to make the list.

A national community developer and Public Investment Fund project, ROSHN is responsible for implementing one of the largest residential real estate projects in the Kingdom.

The three other Saudi women to be recognized were Mona Althagafi, Rabaa Abdulaziz Al-Othaim and Rasha Al-Hoshan.

As country director for Saudi Arabia at Serco, Althagafi is responsible for steering the British company’s growth in the Kingdom. With more than 20 years’ experience, she has held various positions within government and the private sector.

Engineer and founder of 4A Architects, Al-Othaim was recognized for her outstanding work in the Kingdom’s health, hospitality, residential and commercial sectors.

Owner and founder of interior design company Rasha Al-Hoshan Est, Al-Hoshan holds degrees in interior design and architecture from some of the world’s top universities. She is also responsible for introducing leading furniture brands like Nada Debs, Fendi Casa and B&B Italia to the Saudi market.


TikTok plans big push into gaming, conducting tests in Vietnam

Featuring games on its platform would boost advertising revenue as well as the amount of time users spend on the app. (File/AFP)
Featuring games on its platform would boost advertising revenue as well as the amount of time users spend on the app. (File/AFP)
Updated 20 May 2022

TikTok plans big push into gaming, conducting tests in Vietnam

Featuring games on its platform would boost advertising revenue as well as the amount of time users spend on the app. (File/AFP)

HONG KONG/HANOI: TikTok has been conducting tests so users can play games on its video-sharing app in Vietnam, part of plans for a major push into gaming, four people familiar with the matter said.
Featuring games on its platform would boost advertising revenue as well as the amount of time users spend on the app - one of the world's most popular with more than 1 billion monthly active users.
Boasting a tech-savvy population with 70% of its citizens under the age of 35, Vietnam is an attractive market for social media platforms such as TikTok, Meta Platforms Inc's Facebook and Alphabet Inc's YouTube and Google.
TikTok, which is owned by China's ByteDance, also plans to roll out gaming more widely in Southeast Asia, the people said. That move could come as early as the third quarter, said two of them.
The sources declined to be identified as the information has yet to be publicly disclosed.
A TikTok representative said the company has tested bringing HTML5 games, a common form of minigame, to its app through tie-ups with third-party game developers and studios such as Zynga Inc. But it declined to comment on its plans for Vietnam or its broader gaming ambitions.
"We're always looking at ways to enrich our platform and regularly test new features and integrations that bring value to our community," the representative said in an emailed statement to Reuters.
ByteDance did not respond to a request for comment.
Reuters was not able to learn TikTok's plans for rolling out gaming features in other markets. Although TikTok users can watch games being streamed, in most regions they are not able to play games within the TikTok app.
In the United States, only a few games appear to have been launched including Zynga's "Disco Loco 3D", a music and dance challenge game and "Garden of Good", where players grow vegetables to trigger donations by TikTok to the non-profit Feeding America.
According to two sources, TikTok plans to draw primarily on ByteDance's suite of games.
While the company will start with minigames, which tend to have simple game play mechanisms and a short playing time, its gaming ambitions extend beyond that, said one of the people who had direct knowledge of the matter.
TikTok will require a licence to feature games on its platform in Vietnam where authorities restrict games depicting gambling, violence, and sexual content. The process is expected to go smoothly as the games planned are not controversial, the person said.
Vietnam's foreign and communications ministries did not respond to requests for comment.
Users of ByteDance's Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, have been able to play games on the platform since 2019.
TikTok's games are likely to carry advertisements from the start, with revenue split between ByteDance and game developers, a separate source said.
TikTok's foray into games mirrors similar efforts made by major tech firms seeking to retain users. Facebook launched Instant Games in 2016 and streaming firm Netflix also recently added games to its platform.
It also marks the latest ByteDance effort to establish itself as a major contender in gaming. It acquired Shanghai-based gaming studio Moonton Technology last year, putting it in direct competition with Tencent, China's biggest gaming firm.
Even without gaming, TikTok has seen advertising revenue surge. Its advertising revenue is likely to triple this year to more than $11 billion, exceeding the combined sales of Twitter Inc and Snap Inc, according to research firm Insider Intelligence.


Egyptian journalists launch award in honor of slain Palestinian reporter Shireen Abu Akleh

Egyptian journalists launch award in honor of slain Palestinian reporter Shireen Abu Akleh
Palestine’s envoy to Cairo tells memorial service that Abu Akleh’s ‘martyrdom will not be in vain’. (File/AFP)
Updated 19 May 2022

Egyptian journalists launch award in honor of slain Palestinian reporter Shireen Abu Akleh

Egyptian journalists launch award in honor of slain Palestinian reporter Shireen Abu Akleh
  • Palestine’s envoy to Cairo tells memorial service that Abu Akleh’s ‘martyrdom will not be in vain’
  • Egypt foreign ministry condemns ‘assassination’ of media veteran and Al-Jazeera correspondent

CAIRO: The Egyptian Journalists Syndicate will honor the late Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh with a special category in the Egyptian Press Awards bearing her name.

The award will be based on coverage of Palestine.

Syndicate head Diaa Rashwan said that Abu Akleh’s death had caused an emotional outpouring in the Arab world and around the globe.

The veteran Palestinian journalist, who worked for the Qatari Al-Jazeera network, was covering an Israeli army security operation in Jenin camp when she was shot and killed on May 11.

During an Egyptian Journalists Syndicate memorial service for Abu Akleh at the union’s headquarters, Rashwan promised that a section would be added to the site entrance bearing models of press martyrs, including Abu Akleh.

Egyptian journalists observed a minute’s silence for Abu Akleh during the memorial ceremony, which was attended by Palestine’s Ambassador to Egypt, Diab Al-Louh.

Abu Akleh’s martyrdom will not be forgotten in Arab and international history, Al-Louh said.

He told the Egyptian journalists that “Shireen’s blood will not be in vain.”

The envoy declared “May 11, the day of the martyrdom of the Palestinian journalist, is an international day of solidarity with the Palestinian press.”

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing its “condemnation in the strongest terms of the heinous crime of assassination of the late Palestinian journalist and Al-Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh.”


MENA region music streaming charts ‘in development,’ industry federation says

MENA region music streaming charts ‘in development,’ industry federation says
Updated 19 May 2022

MENA region music streaming charts ‘in development,’ industry federation says

MENA region music streaming charts ‘in development,’ industry federation says

DUBAI: The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) has announced that music streaming charts are in development for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), including IFPI’s first ever regional chart.

IFPI published the “Global Music Report” in March and it showed that market revenues in the MENA region grew by 35 percent in 2021, making the region the fastest-growing area in the world. The numbers also portray that the market is mainly made up of streaming which is 95.3 percent of the region’s revenues.

The charts are presently being tested in four countries — Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Morocco — alongside a first of its kind regional chart for the MENA region. The outcome is the product of collaborative and direct partnerships between the industry and the largest streaming services in the region, which include Anghami, Spotify, Apple, Deezer, and Youtube.

 IFPI additionally conducted a research study to demonstrate the industry’s interest in the region which showed that UAE residents listen to an average of 22.5 hours of music in a week which is 22 percent higher than the world average. The study explored music engagement of people in the country between the ages of 16-44, also found that 54 percent of people usually listen to a minimum of one Middle Eastern genre.

IFPI Chief Executive, Frances Moore said “both the research and the upcoming charts serve to demonstrate the passion music fans have for music here in the region. We are seeing how the presence and investment of record companies in the area and their work to develop and support local artists is driving positive developments in the music ecosystem.”

Highlighting the excitement of this endeavour, IFPI’s Regional Director for the MENA region, Rawan Al-Dabbas stated “this is an incredibly exciting time for music in the region. The combination of the forthcoming regional charts combined with the industry’s focus and investment in MENA going forward goes to demonstrate the exciting future for music in the region.”

She also mentioned some drawbacks for the region as there is an issue of streaming unlicensed music in the area. “There are challenges, for example unlicensed music is an issue in the region, and IFPI and our member companies are committed to working with governments here in MENA to tackle this and ensure that licensed music has a secure foundation from which to continue its exciting growth story,” she added.


Three more senior executives quit Twitter amid fallout from $44bn Musk deal

Three more senior executives quit Twitter amid fallout from $44bn Musk deal
Updated 18 May 2022

Three more senior executives quit Twitter amid fallout from $44bn Musk deal

Three more senior executives quit Twitter amid fallout from $44bn Musk deal
  • Tesla magnate says agreement ‘on hold’ after spat with CEO Parag Agrawal over possible fake accounts
  • Up to 20 percent of platform’s 229m accounts could be spam bots, Musk claims

LONDON: Three top executives quit Twitter on Wednesday as questions continue to swirl around Tesla magnate Elon Musk’s deal to buy the platform.

The departure of Ilya Brown, vice president of product management; Katrina Lane,  vice president of Twitter Service, and Max Schmeiser, head of data science, comes shortly after Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal fired two top executives, Kayvon Beykpour, the company’s general manager, and Bruce Falck, head of revenue.

“We are thankful for all of their hard work and leadership,” a Twitter spokesperson commented following the latest departures. “We continue to be focused on providing the very best experience to the people on Twitter.”

Earlier this month, Musk said that a potential mass resignation of Twitter employees is “fine” following his deal to buy the social media company.

“It’s a free country,” Musk said at the Met Gala. “Certainly if anyone doesn’t feel comfortable with that, they will on their own accord go somewhere else. That’s fine.”

The Tesla CEO agreed on a $44 billion deal to buy Twitter in April, but last week said the agreement was “on hold” while he sought clarification about possible fake accounts.

Twitter CEO Agrawal said that internal estimates of spam accounts for the past four quarters were “well under 5 percent,” but has refused to explain how the figure was reached.

“We don’t believe this specific estimation can be performed externally, given the critical need to use both public and private information (which we can’t share),” he said.

On Tuesday, however, Musk said that Agrawal had “publicly refused to show proof” that less than 5 percent of Twitter’s accounts were fake, and said the deal “cannot move forward” until evidence is provided.

Musk suggested that up to 20 percent of the platform’s 229 million accounts could be spam bots.