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Last Thursday marked Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian's 500th day in an Iranian jail cell. Arrested and imprisoned by government security forces on July 22, 2014, Rezaian was convicted and sentenced to prison last month on dubious charges of espionage by a revolutionary court in Tehran.

Rezaian, who has dual citizenship in Iran and the United States, has had limited access to his lawyer since his 2014 detention, and has been denied access to the United States' protecting power in the country, Switzerland. (Iran does not recognize dual citizenship.)

"This blatant violation of Jason's basic human rights must end now," said Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan in a statement released last week. "It is time for Jason Rezaian to come home."

Blatant violations of basic press freedoms are quite common in the Middle East, and while Rezaian represents perhaps the most high-profile case, the region has in recent years become one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. While much of this can be attributed to the many understood risks of war zone reporting -- scores of journalists have died in Syria alone since 2011 -- journalists are also routinely targeted and persecuted by more stable Mideast governments, and often on spurious charges.

Soft targets such as journalists are frequently sacrificed at the altar of realpolitik, and imprisoned reporters can become pawns in geopolitical and internal feuds. Much of this may be unavoidable in a region now ravaged by upheaval and sectarian strife, but it does not augur well for a corner of the world that is in great need of civil society alternatives to terrorists and tyrants.

In Turkey, journalists critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been jailed for reporting on government policy, and one prominent paper, the Hurriyet Daily News, has been the target of violent mobs. In Egypt, the green shoots of a vibrant, free press had begun to bloom following the 2011 resignation of longtime President Hosni Mubarak. But press freedoms have taken a big step backward in recent months, and at least 18 journalists now languish in Egyptian prisons. In Bahrain -- which just last month sentenced photojournalist Sayed al-Mousawi to a 10-year prison term for his reporting on anti-government demonstrations in 2011 -- media freedoms are tightly regulated, and most outlets exercise self-censorship in order to avoid government persecution.

These are more than mere anecdotes, says Jason Stern of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, journalists of every variety have found themselves under heavy pressure at home and on the front lines across much of the Middle East. Reacting to popular unrest and revolution, several of the region's governments ramped up their efforts to curtail independent press, and according to Stern, one in three journalists imprisoned in 2014 were in the Middle East.

Although the number of recorded violations against the press has actually decreased in the region, monitors take little solace in this fact. Though the pace of violations may have plateaued, watchdogs worry that this is most likely due to the success of the campaigns against media in the region.

"We're seeing fewer violations because press freedoms have been crushed so thoroughly," Stern told the Memo.

More on this:

500-Plus Days of Injustice -- Newseum Institute

Egypt Arrests Prominent Journalist on Return from Berlin -- AFP

Sisi's War on Reporters -- New York Times

Turkey's Sultan Cracks Down on Press -- New York Review of Books


Around the Region

Daesh and taxes. Yesterday we discussed ISIS's efforts to build its own state, and whether or not the jihadi militant organization likely measures its own successes by traditional Western standards.

While it is unlikely that the Islamic State group will ever engage in trade that isn't illicit or join multilateral organizations, there is one thing that even ISIS cannot avoid: collecting taxes. Arizona State University's Adam Chodorow explains:

"No matter how much a ruling entity collects, taxes aren't a great way to ingratiate oneself with the governed. And they require a mature administrative state. More than one government has fallen because of its tax policy. ISIS must face these challenges just as any emerging polity does, and its efforts thus far to tax its subjects offer a glimpse into core issues with which any tax system must engage: fairness, efficiency, and administrability. ISIS may have displayed prowess on the battlefield, but it has revealed that it is as stymied and constrained by the complexities of taxation as the rest of us."

Can Turkey break the habit? Writing for Al-Monitor, energy markets analyst Olgu Okumus wonders if Turkey can break its dependency on Russian natural gas:

"A recent meeting between Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani gave rise to a new rhetoric in Turkey: Turkey will be able to meet any shortfall in Russian gas supplies with new imports of Qatari liquefied natural gas (LNG). Any new LNG contracts signed with Qatar, the argument goes, now can be substituted for the gas Turkey currently buys from Russian sources -- that is to say, about 50% of all of Turkey's gas demands.

"But this is not actually feasible. Not only are Turkey's limited LNG storage and gasification capacity not sufficient for the amount of expensive Qatari gas the country would need, but also long-term energy contracts and a take or pay clause tie Russia and Turkey for at least 10 more years."


"Not only do legal obligations tie both countries together for at least the next 10 years, but also the Russian economy -- due to its oil and gas dependency -- cannot afford to lose Turkey, the world's second-largest consumer of Russian gas."

An OPEC standoff. While their proxies and partners battle it out across the Middle East, a different kind of war is also being waged between Iran and Saudi Arabia over global oil production. Reuters has the latest:

"Halfway through last Friday's six-hour meeting, an unexpected dispute erupted over the defining feature of the cartel. In a move sources say was masterminded by Saudi Arabia, ministers finally agreed for the first time in decades to drop any reference to the 13-member group's output ceiling.

"The pivot, which surprised not only markets but also some OPEC officials, appeared to be a direct response to Saudi Arabia's arch-rival Iran, which has made clear it intends to make a rapid return to global oil markets next year as nuclear-related sanctions are lifted.

"With Tehran looking to pump as much as 1 million barrels per day (bpd) more crude into a market already saturated with excess supply, an increase of about 1 percent in world supply, maintaining or legitimizing any pretence of OPEC limits -- no matter how notional -- was not an option for Riyadh.

"'The ceiling issue was very controversial and they could not decide on it,' said an OPEC source briefed on the discussion inside the room. ‘Nobody was happy.'"


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