Newsletter No 17 07 February 2006
Press Freedom:
Latest Press Freedom News From the Region

In Jordan, Jihad Al Momeni and Hisham Al-Khalidi, respectively Editors-in-Chief of the weeklies Shihan and Al Mehwar , were reportedly arrested on 6 February for the second time in three days after their publications reproduced cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. They are facing charges of “violating religious feelings” and “instigating sectarianism.”

The editors were first arrested on 4 February and were released on bail the following day. Each faces a fine and up to three months of prison.

Both publications carried cartoons that had been first published in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten in September and caused great uproar among Muslims. After a Norwegian Christian magazine reprinted them in December, political condemnations and violent protests have taken place in different Muslim countries

Al Mehwar reprinted the 12 cartoons on 26 January in a small box beside an article about the outcry they had caused. A week later, Shihan reproduced three of the 12 cartoons along with an editorial calling Muslims of the world to be reasonable. Al Momeni is a former member of the Jordanian senate, whose members are appointed by the king.

In related news, the Yemeni Minister of Information has reportedly revoked the license of the independent weekly Al Hurriya, while the prosecutor has issued a detention order against the publication’s Editor-in-Chief, Abdul Karim Sabra, for publishing the cartoons depicting the Prophet that were formerly printed in the Danish newspaper.

The Minister said that the decision was based on article 5 of the Press and Publication Law of 1990 that prevents from publishing any material offending the Islam or any of the other two “celestial” religions, namely Judaism and Christianism.

The Minister of information had already seized all the issues of the weekly the day after its publication on 1 February. The front-page headline of the issue said: “Freedom means publishing both the cartoons and the reactions over what Danish and Norwegian newspapers published” (translated form Arabic).

The Yemeni Journalists Union has also decided to remove Sabra’s membership for publishing the cartoons.

In Morocco, the Spanish daily El Mundo was banned on 2 February for carrying an article written by exiled Moroccan journalist Ali Lmrabet.

According to reports, the Moroccan communications ministry forbade distribution of El Mundo, saying it contained an article by Lmrabet “who claims to be the paper’s correspondent in Rabat." It said he was not accredited with the ministry as a correspondent. El Mundo said it had no obligation to register its correspondents with any ministry, in Morocco or elsewhere.

The article in question reported that King Mohamed VI had restricted the movements of his own mother because she had taken a lover.

Lmrabet, editor of two now defunct satirical weeklies, the French-language Demain Magazine and its Arabic-language version Douman, was sentenced by a Moroccan court on 12 April 2005 to a ten-year ban on working as a journalist and a fine of 50,000 dirhams (about 4,500 euros), after he reported in January that Sahraoui people of Tindouf were not held by Algeria, as Moroccan officials claimed, but had a refugee status granted by the UN.

In 2001, Lmrabet was sentenced to four years in prison and for defaming King Mohamed. This was reduced on an appeal to three years in prison the following month. He and a number of other imprisoned journalists received a royal pardon on 7 January 2004.

Also in Morocco, the trial against the independent weekly Al Ayam until 6 February on the request of the newspaper’s lawyer. Al Ayam’s editor-un-Chief, Nour Eddin Al Miftah, and journalist Marya Moukrim are accused of publishing “false information” and publishing pictures of the royal family without permission. If convicted, both journalists face one month to a year in prison and a fine of up to 100,000 dirhams (US$11,000).

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