Newsletter No 3 13 October 2005
Press Freedom:
Latest Press Freedom News from the Region

» In Algeria, the health of imprisoned journalist Mohamed Benchicou, editor of the daily paper Le Matin, is reportedly worsening and he risks serious paralysis if he does not get immediate and proper treatment. Benchicou, who has been in prison since June last year serving a two-year sentence for libel, has cervical arthritis and the right side of his body is almost entirely paralyzed.. According to reports, his wife and his lawyers have several times asked officials at the El-Harrach prison, where he is being held, to allow him to be treated for it but have had no reply.

Reporters Without Borders has called on international organizations to urgently send a doctor to check his health and has warned the prison authorities that they will be responsible for any irreversible medical problems that arise.

Benchicou, whose paper campaigned against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in the run-up to the April 2004 election, has been hounded for several years with lawsuits for libel. He has been in jail since 14 June 2004. The paper was shut down a month later, on 23 July.

»In Morocco, the imprisoned journalist Abderrahmane El Badraoui went on an indefinite hunger strike on 7 October in protest again his transfer on 5 October to Mohdya prison, near Casablanca, 150 km from his family in Rabat.

The former editor of the weekly Al-Moulahid Assiyassi, Badraoui had been held in Salé prison, just outside Rabat. He has been detained since January 2002.

According to reports, conditions in Mohdya prison are terrible. The daily food ration is just half a baguette of bread. Inmates cannot get medicine or see a doctor. El Badraoui was held with political prisoners in Salé prison. But in Mohdya, he has been reportedly put in a 40-square-metre cell with 38 common criminals. It seems the decision to transfer him was taken because he had managed to set up a website from Salé prison with the help of a friend on the outside in which he criticized his imprisonment.

El Badraoui was arrested after publishing two reports in late 2001 about the expropriation of a French family by local dignitaries and alleged embezzlement by senior police officers in Témara, near Rabat. The weekly has not been published since 2002.

» In Tunisia, imprisoned journalist Hamadi Jebali has entered his fourth week of hunger strike. According to reports, Jebali’s wife has not been allowed to see him since 20 September.

Wahida Jebali reportedly sent a telegram to President Ben Ali on 5 October, expressing her concern about his husband’s health and asking the president to intercede. Jebali, former editor of Al-Fajr, the now-defunct weekly newspaper of the banned Islamic Al-Nahda party, was first imprisoned in 1991 for an article calling for the abolition of military tribunals in Tunisia. Tried the following year by a military court, along with 279 others accused of belonging to Al-Nahda, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

International human rights groups monitoring the mass trial concluded that the proceedings fell far below international standards of justice.

»In Saudi Arabia, the access to a weblog creation and hosting service was blocked during two days on 4 and 5 October. The Internet Services Unit (ISU), an agency managing web filtering in Saudi Arabia, did not give any explanation about the reasons for denying the access to, one of the biggest blog tools on the Saudi media scene.

The Saudi authorities have acknowledged blacklisting more than 400,000 websites. A wide range of sites is affected, including political organizations, non-recognized Islamist movements and publications containing any kind of reference to sexuality.

Sources for the alerts:
Arab Press Freedom Watch (AFPW), London
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), New York
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Brussels, Belgium
International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), Canada
International Press Institute (IPI), Vienna, Austria
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), France