Newsletter No 20 01 March 2006
Press Freedom:
Latest Press Freedom News From the Region

In Algeria, Bashir Al Arabi, regional correspondent of the El Khabar daily was freed after serving a one-month prison sentence for defamation.

Al Arabi was arrested on 21 January after a court issued an arrest warrant on him four months after he was sentenced. He was accused of defamation after publishing an article about corruption concerning land property involving the president of a charity organization.

According to reports, the journalist provided the court with documents proving the veracity of what he said.

In Egypt, a one-year prison sentence against Abdel Nasser Al Zuheiry, journalist of Al Masry Al Youm independent daily, was upheld by a Cairo criminal appeals court on 23 February, exactly two years after president Mubarak promised to abolish imprisonment for publishing offences.

Al Zuheiry has been convicted of libel for a news report published on August 2004. According to reports, he has moved to the offices of the Egyptian Journalists Union to avoid imprisonment.

Iraq, an Al Arabiya TV Station crew of three was kidnapped in Samarra on 22 February and their bodies found the following morning.

Atwar Bahjat, reporter, Khaled Mahmoud Al Falahi, cameraman, and Adnan Khairallah, sound engineer, had gone to the city (North of Baghdad) to cover the attack on a shia mosque for the satellite pan-Arab station. The reasons for the kidnapping remain unknown.

According to Reporters Without Borders, 82 journalists and media assistants have been killed in
Iraq since the beginning of the war. Seven of them have died in 2006, making of the start of the year the deadliest in three years.

Saudi Arabia, the Shams daily was suspended on 20 February after reproducing the cartoons of the prophet Mohammed earlier published in a Danish newspaper and that have caused great uproar among Muslims all over the world.

The cartoons illustrated an article urging Saudis to take action against Danish products.

According to reports, the suspension could be a result of the paper tackling sensitive issues in
Saudi Arabia. The reports said pressures from conservative clerics on the minister of information led to the suspension.

Shams was launched in December 2005 as a tabloid aimed directly at Saudi young people with a print-run of 120,000.

Tunisia, journalist Hamadi Jebali and the internet “Group of Zarzis” were released from prison among 1,600 prisoners who received presidential pardons on 25 February.

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.

The eight internet users known as the “Group of Zarzis” (South) were sentenced in April 2004 to 19 years of prison for “using the Internet to promote terrorism”. According to reports, confessions were obtained under torture. The sentence was reduced in December 2004 to 13 years.

After the presidential pardon, lawyer Mohammed Abdou remains in prison because an article he published on internet. He is serving a three-and-a-half years sentence for defaming the judicial process and disturbing public order.

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