A female journalist with Qatar’s Al Jazeera Arabic broadcaster says she has fallen victim to “cyberbullying” and a “coordinated” smear campaign by a large number of Saudi Twitter accounts, which used content apparently stolen from her cell phone by hackers.
In an article published in the Washington Post on Wednesday, Ghada Oueiss, a principal anchor and presenter for Al Jazeera Arabic, recounted the grim story of how she came under attack by “Twitter-verified accounts” as her private photos suddenly went viral.
“This was not the first time that I had been subjected to cyberbullying or a coordinated campaign against me on social media. But this time, it appeared the attackers had hacked my phone,” she said.
“Private photos of me in a swimsuit had been stolen from my phone and posted on Twitter with offensive, misogynistic and false claims that the photos were taken at the private residence of Al Jazeera Media Network’s Qatari chairman, Sheikh Hamad Bin Thamer Al-Thani,” she said.Oueiss has spent more than two decades in broadcast journalism and who is regularly presenting critical reports about the Saudi regime. She added that in almost no time her photos — including those pixelated to make people believe, incorrectly, that she was nude — were retweeted over 40,000 times.
“Almost all of the accounts abusing me displayed the Saudi flag, a picture of MBS, as the Saudi crown prince [Mohammed bin Salman] is often known, or a photograph of Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed,” she added.
The Lebanese journalist particularly named one of the trolls, under the name of Saoud Bin Abdulaziz Algharibi, who insulted her for being “naked,” “old,” “ugly” and “a cheap Christian.”
“Like almost all of the Saudi accounts attacking me, the majority of Algharibi’s Twitter timeline is filled with tweets praising Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” she noted.
Oueiss also said that similar attacks also targeted her colleague, Ola al-Fares, a Jordanian news anchor with millions of online followers.
The attackers “used the hashtag #Ola_Sauna to claim that her success was due to sexual favors,” urging her to quit the journalism and instead concentrate on “providing other services.”
She added that within a few hours, the hashtags #Ghada_Jacuzzi and #Ola_Sauna were trending across the Arab kingdom, which is Twitter’s fifth-largest market.
“Although I was the target of this latest assault — no doubt because I regularly present critical reporting about Saudi Arabia and the UAE — the message to journalists across the Middle East is very clear: Don’t criticize the crown princes,” Oueiss stressed.
She also emphasized on the fact that in this case, the trolls were attacking Ola and her not only as journalists but also as “women who dared to be critical.”
Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s view of women’s role in society is that they “should be seen but not heard — unless they occupy token positions to demonstrate a facade of modernity and can be paraded in front of the world’s media,” Oueiss added.
She also said the Saudi regime has been terrified by the movement for women’s rights in the Arab kingdom, which “has insisted on doling out reforms on its own terms while detaining the female activists behind the movement.”
Oueiss named, among others, Loujain al-Hathloul, the most prominent of the Saudi women campaigners, who is behind bars in Saudi Arabia over her views about the women’s rights in Saudi Arabia and her activism in this regard.
The Saudi regime has a long history in targeting and silencing its critics both at home and abroad.
The most prominent case in recent years was the gruesome killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, which sparked international outrage and tarnished the image of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, the MbS.
“Jamal himself once warned me to ignore and block these Twitter accounts. Even though the man widely believed to be responsible for Jamal’s murder may never be held to account, we must not let him and those who work for him imperil one of the fundamental pillars of a free society — a free press,” Oueiss concluded.
Riyadh and Abu Dhabi — along with Bahrain and Egypt — suddenly severed ties with Qatar three years ago and imposed a blockade on the fellow Arab state.
They later presented Doha with a steep list of demands to end the diplomatic spat, including shutting down Al Jazeera.
Earlier this year, a Saudi-led disinformation campaign using various accounts and influencers was used to spread information about an alleged coup in Qatar.