US sanctions senior employees of Iranian state-run media

US sanctions senior employees of Iranian state-run media
The US Treasury Department says it has imposed sanctions on six senior employees of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 16 November 2022

US sanctions senior employees of Iranian state-run media

US sanctions senior employees of Iranian state-run media
  • The US Treasury Department in a statement said it imposed sanctions on six senior employees of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting
  • The media corporation acts as "a critical tool in the Iranian government’s mass suppression and censorship campaign against its own people"

WASHINGTON: The US on Wednesday imposed sanctions on senior employees of an Iranian state-run media corporation it accused of broadcasting hundreds of forced confessions of detainees in the country, as Washington increases pressure on Iran over the crackdown on protests.
The US Treasury Department in a statement said it imposed sanctions on six senior employees of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, which was designated by Washington in 2013.
The Treasury said the media corporation acts as “a critical tool in the Iranian government’s mass suppression and censorship campaign against its own people.” The Treasury said the corporation has produced and broadcast interviews of people being forced to confess that their relatives were not killed by Iranian authorities during recent protests but instead died due to accidental, unrelated causes.
“The Iranian government’s systemic reliance on forced confessions illustrates the government’s refusal to speak truth to its citizens and the international community,” the Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Brian Nelson, said in the statement.
“The United States remains committed to supporting the Iranian people as they continue their peaceful protests,” he said, adding that Washington would continue to hold the Iranian government accountable for human rights violations and censorship.
Demonstrations following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody on Sept. 16 have become one of the boldest challenges to Iran’s clerical leadership since the 1979 revolution.

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A century ago, the autonomous sheikhdom of Arabistan was absorbed by force into the Persian state. Today the Arabs of Ahwaz are Iran's most persecuted minority

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Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza

Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza
Updated 27 January 2023

Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza

Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza
  • The ruling prohibits anyone from sharing links to Meduza's website

LONDON: Russia on Thursday declared Meduza, its most prominent independent news website, an “undesirable organization,” banning the outlet’s operation on Russian territory under the threat of felony prosecution.

Russia’s prosecutor-general said in an official statement that Meduza, which was founded by Russian journalists in Latvia, “threatens the foundations of constitutional order and the security of the Russian Federation.”

The ruling prohibits the outlet’s activities in Russia as well as any reference to it, even by posting a hyperlink on social media. Anyone who fails to cooperate may face a prison sentence of up to six years, according to The Guardian.

Russian officials previously labeled Meduza a “foreign agent,” hindering the news website’s ability to raise funds through advertising and forcing it to shift to a crowdfunding model.

“We believe in what we do. We believe in freedom of speech. We believe in a democratic Russia. The bigger the pressure, the harder we will stand up to it,” Meduza said in a statement.

With the onset of the Ukraine war in February 2022, the Russian government banned several outlets, including Echo of Moscow and TV Rain, the country’s only independent news channel.

Russian lawmakers introduced a bill in May 2022 outlawing “discrediting the armed forces,” with a prison sentence of up to 15 years for criticizing the Russian military.

Russia has been cracking down on “undesirable organizations” since 2015, according to Meduza, granting the prosecutor-general the power to label as such any organization that purportedly imperils the country’s “constitutional-order foundations” or national security.


Starzplay to launch first Arabic original series ‘Kaboos’

Starzplay to launch first Arabic original series ‘Kaboos’
Updated 27 January 2023

Starzplay to launch first Arabic original series ‘Kaboos’

Starzplay to launch first Arabic original series ‘Kaboos’
  • TV series described as modern-day retelling of Arab folklore is set to stream in February

LONDON: Video-streaming platform Starzplay announced on Thursday the launch of its first Arabic-language original series created in collaboration with Academy Award-winning Emirati production company Image Nation Abu Dhabi.

The new show, “Kaboos,” features five standalone episodes and has been described as a modern-day retelling of Arab folklore.

Nadim Dada, VP of programming and content acquisition at Starzplay, said the show is “our biggest content asset this year, our very first Arabic language original, and we are very excited to roll out the production across the Middle East.”

Filmed across Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt and the UAE, the series takes viewers on a journey through urban legends of the region, with spine-chilling modern takes on stories inspired by local mythology.

The series, which spans a variety of genres from classic horror stories to noir psychological thrillers, features leading directors from across the region.

Emirati filmmakers Hana Kazim and Majid Al-Ansari, Iraqi director Yasir Al-Yasiri, Egyptian filmmaker and visual artist Ahmed Khaled, and Los Angeles-based Bahraini director Hala Matar each directed an episode.

“Image Nation Abu Dhabi constantly looks for challenging new projects that enable regional filmmakers to share the region’s contemporary heritage and culture with the world through Arabic-language content,” Ben Ross, chief content officer, said.

“Kaboos” balances terrifying horror scenes with storylines that explore human nature, offering nostalgic tales to Arab audiences, while introducing global viewers to the eerie world of Arab folklore, he added.

The series, which has been produced by Al-Yasiri’s and Mansoor Al Feeli’s media company, Abu Dhabi-based Starship Entertainment, is set to stream on Starzplay from Feb. 9.
 


Saudi Ministry of Economy launches ‘The Story’ short film on WEF 2023 closing day

Saudi Ministry of Economy launches ‘The Story’ short film on WEF 2023 closing day
Updated 26 January 2023

Saudi Ministry of Economy launches ‘The Story’ short film on WEF 2023 closing day

Saudi Ministry of Economy launches ‘The Story’ short film on WEF 2023 closing day
  • The film's director, Owen Harris, was hired by MBC Studios

LONDON: The Saudi Ministry of Economy and Planning launched on Jan. 20 the short film “The Story,” which was featured at Expo 2020 Dubai, showcasing the Kingdom's transformation and growth.

The film’s debut to a global audience, supported by the Ministry of Culture, came on the closing day of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2023, following the film’s positive reception at Expo 2020.

The production company, MBC Studios, hired world-renowned director Owen Harris to bring “The Story” to life, showcasing Saudi Arabia’s transformation to global audiences.

“With one year to go until the launch of Expo 2020 Dubai, the working team from the Ministry of Economy and Planning were tasked in delivering a short film for the Saudi Pavilion cinema,” said Saud Altobaishi, general manager of the ministry’s strategic communications.

He added: “Back then, the Executive Committee leading the design, operations, and delivery of the Saudi Pavilion was led by the Minister of Economy and Planning, Faisal F. Alibrahim, when he was the vice minister of economy and planning, and he assigned me to lead and manage the delivery of the short film stream.

“With the clock ticking toward the Saudi Pavilion’s opening day and budgets uncertain, we had to improvise.”

The ministry’s team sought to highlight the Kingdom’s transformation, particularly social and economic growth, and diversity.

“We wanted to show the impact that our evolving economy is having on the quality of life in Saudi Arabia, not by using numbers, but by using raw and real emotions,” Altobaishi said.

The script for “The Story” was developed by Alibrahim and Altobaishi over a single weekend, a few weeks after the creation of the Saudi Pavilion “Cloud Walker” campaign.

“Our partners at the Ministry of Culture and the vice minister of culture, Hamed M. Fayez, provided invaluable technical support at this stage,” Altobaishi added.

Partners in the film creation include the Saudi Tourism Authority and Princess Noura Bint Abdulmohsen of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, both of whom facilitated the filming and production process.

Altobaishi said: “When this film was done, I was an adviser to the Minister of Economy and Planning and Head of Marketing and Communications as well as Head of the film stream for the Saudi Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai from early 2020 to October 2021, just before the opening of Expo Dubai.”

“It was no surprise that ‘The Story’ was a hit among Expo 2020 visitors, an immersive journey that captured the essence of our rich cultural heritage and the cutting-edge, innovation-driven future our leadership is shaping through Saudi Vision 2030,” he said.

“Visitors were so captivated by the film that they requested a public version to share with their friends and family, which further solidified its success and resonance among audiences.”


Twitter sued over failure to remove antisemitic post

Twitter sued over failure to remove antisemitic post
Updated 26 January 2023

Twitter sued over failure to remove antisemitic post

Twitter sued over failure to remove antisemitic post
  • Anti-hate speech organizations say Twitter failure to delete content represents breach of its own terms and conditions
  • Case could indicate whether users can sue social media platforms for the removal of violating content in the future

LONDON: Twitter is being sued in Germany for failing to remove antisemitic content from its platform.

The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday by an anti-hate speech organization, HateAid, and the European Union of Jewish Students, who accuse the social network of not deleting six posts attacking Jewish people and denying the Holocaust, after they were reported.

“What starts online does not end online,” said Avital Grinberg, president of the EUJS.

“Twitter broke our trust. By allowing the distribution of hateful content, the company fails to protect users and especially young Jews.”

According to the two organizations, Twitter’s refusal to remove the content represents a violation of the platform’s terms and conditions.

In Germany antisemitism and Holocaust denial are criminal offenses.

The lawsuit is set to establish whether Twitter’s decision violates a contract between the platform and its users and whether the latter has the authority to enforce the site’s terms and conditions.

HateAid and EUJS also argue that the case’s outcome may indicate whether users can sue for the removal of violating content in the future, even if they are not personally impacted by it.

“We have put the control over the public discourse on the internet into the hands of private companies and investors. Twitter assures it will not tolerate violence on its platform. Users have to be able to rely on that,” said Josephine Ballon, HateAid’s head of legal. 

“But in practice, we see the opposite happening: Illegal content is at best removed in arbitrary and untransparent ways. This must finally change. Twitter owes us a communication platform where we can move freely and without fear of hatred and agitation.”

On Tuesday,  the white supremacist and far-right provocateur Nick Fuentes was reinstated to Twitter and returned to the social media platform with a volley of antisemitic posts and comments, including praise for Adolf Hitler.

Since Elon Musk’s takeover of the company, hate speech on the platform has significantly increased.

According to reports by hate monitor groups the Anti-Defamation League and the Center for Countering Digital Hate, antisemitic posts referring to Jews or Judaism soared more than 61 percent since October.

In an earlier analysis, CCDH found that the majority of the time, social media companies failed to act on antisemitism, anti-black racism, sexist abuse, and vaccine disinformation, with anti-muslim content not being deleted in 89 percent of cases.

According to some experts, Musk’s restructuring of Twitter, which resulted in the layoff of more than 60 percent of the company’s workforce, has had a significant influence on the increase.


Netflix’s ‘Fauda’ most streamed show in Lebanon

Netflix’s ‘Fauda’ most streamed show in Lebanon
Updated 26 January 2023

Netflix’s ‘Fauda’ most streamed show in Lebanon

Netflix’s ‘Fauda’ most streamed show in Lebanon
  • IDF operative Doron returns to track down man he thought was already dead

LONDON: The Israeli TV series “Fauda” has topped the list of most streamed Netflix shows in Lebanon, as well as hitting the top 10 in the UAE, Jordan, Qatar and Morocco.

Much of the action in the show’s fourth season, which premiered on Netflix on Jan. 20, is set in Lebanon.

The action begins with former Israel Defense Force operative Doron working on a vineyard after being expelled from his combat unit. But he returns to work after learning that an enemy he thought he had killed is still alive.

The mission takes him across Israel, Lebanon and Belgium, though the action was actually shot in Israel and Ukraine.

The show’s co-creator Avi Issacharoff told The Times of Israel that the plot of the latest season was based on a true story.

Topping the charts is a new high for “Fauda,” whose third season, released in 2020, was one of the most watched Netflix shows in the Arab world.