In Egypt, the mediation of the information minister and the press council between Mohammed Soliman, a former housing minister, and Jalal Aref, President of the Egyptian Journalists Union, led on 3 March to the withdrawal of 37 defamation complaints the minister had lodged against journalists.
According to reports, Soliman announced the decision in a joint statement with the Journalists Union stressing his “respect for President Mubarak’s initiative to abolish imprisonment sentences in cases involving the press.”
The confrontation between Soliman and the Journalists Union became stronger when a court sentenced Abdel Nasser Al Zuheiry, journalist at Al Masry Al Youm, to one year of prison on 23 February on the basis of a defamation lawsuit lodged by Soliman. This caused uproar among Egyptian journalists, who gathered on 3 March at the Journalists Union building to support Zuheiry and remind President Mubarak the promise made two years ago to avoid prison sentences for press crimes.
Also in Egypt, Amira Malash, journalist for Al Fagr weekly newspaper, was sentenced to one year of prison for defamation on 7 March.
The sentence came after Malash alleged in an article she wrote in July 2005 that a judge in Alexandria had taken bribes. According to reports, the court lasted only eight minutes before issuing the sentence. The Egyptian Journalists Union and Al Fagr are planning to appeal the sentence, the reports said.
In Iraq, two TV reporters have been killed in less than a week, raising the number of journalists killed tsince the beginning of the war in 2003 to 84.
Monsef Al Khalidi, reporter for Baghdad TV, was shot dead by gunmen on 7 March while driven his car from Baghdad to Mosul.
Amjad Hameed, of the local TV station Al Iraquiya, was murdered in similar conditions on 11 March. Armed men blocked his car while going to his work place in central Baghdad and shot him dead. His driver was seriously injured.
Hameed is the eleventh journalist working for Al Iraqiya TV station killed since 2003. The TV station is part of the state-run Iraqi Media Network.
In Libya, Abdel Razak Al Mansouri was given an amnesty and released from prison on 2 March. His release was expected in June 2006 after he had received a sentence of 18 months in prison. According to reports, Al Mansouri had rejoined his family and was in good health.
Al Mansouri reportedly benefited from an amnesty for which 131 other prisoners of opinion, most of them linked with the Muslim Brotherhood, were released. Al Mansouri was arrested on 12 January 2005 and transferred to a prison in Tripoli in the same day. He was sentenced in October 2005.
The tribunal found him guilty of unauthorized possession of a pistol but, according to press freedom organizations, the real reason for his conviction are the articles he wrote for www.akhbar-lybia.com, a Libyan website based in London. He criticized human rights abuses in the country.
In Syria, Shaaban Abboud, correspondent in Damascus for An-Nahar Lebanese daily, was released on bail on 7 March, according to reports.
He was arrested on 2 March and investigated by the military attorney general on 5 March, who charged him of “publishing news that damage national security”. He faces up to five years of prison according to the martial laws effective in Syria since 1963.
According to the reports, Abboud recently wrote an article that referred changes in the leadership of the Syrian Military Intelligence Services. However, that information had already been published on websites run by senior members of the ruling Baath party.
Sources for the alerts:
Arab Organization for the Defense of Freedom of the Press and Expression (AODFPE), Paris
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
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), France