Newsletter No 19 21 February 2006
Press Freedom:
World Press Protests Arrests, Closures Over Mohammed Cartoons

The World Association of Newspapers and World Editors Forum have protested against a wave of repressive action against editors and other journalists in Arab and Muslim countries who have published the cartoons of Mohammed at the centre of the current controversy.

In letters to the governments of Algeria, Yemen, Malaysia and Jordan, together with that of Russia, the Paris-based WAN and WEF have called for the release of jailed journalists and the reopening of banned publications.

The organizations said that governments should not interfere with editorial decisions and that the arrests and closures violated the right to freedom of expression.

"While appreciating that the cartoons have caused offence to many Muslims, we respectfully remind you that the decision as to whether or not to publish such material is an editorial decision and not one with which the State should interfere," said the letters.

In Algeria, Kamel Bousaad, Director of the weekly Panorama and Berkane Bouderbala, Director of the weekly Essafir were arrested, and their publications closed, after they printed the cartoons that were first published in Denmark.

In Yemen, the Editor-in-Chief of the Yemen Observer, Mohammad al-Asaadi, and two journalists from al-Hurriya -- the Managing Editor, Abd al-Karim Sabra and a reporter, Yehiya al-Abed -- were jailed. An arrest warrant has been issued for Kamal al-Aalafi, the editor-in-chief of al-Rai al-Aam. The publishing licenses of all three newspapers have been revoked.

In Malaysia, the government closed the regional daily Sarawak Tribune for publishing the cartoons on 4 February and declared it an offence for anyone to publish, produce, import, circulate or possess the caricatures.

In Russia, authorities in Volgograd closed Volgograd-Info after the Gorodski Vesti newspaper published a cartoon in which caricatures of Christ, Moses, Buddha and Mohammad were featured. The four religious figures were seated in front of a television set that showed two groups of men about to fight. "We never taught them that!" the caption read.

WAN and the WEF had earlier protested to the Jordanian government against the jailings of Editors Jihad Momani of the weekly Shihan and Hisham Khalidi of al-Mehwar, for re-publishing the cartoons. The editors have subsequently been released on bail.

Read the full letters at