Newsletter No 19 21 February 2006
Press Freedom:
Latest Press Freedom News From the Region

In Algeria, cartoonist Ali Dilem has been condemned by the Algiers appeals court on 11 February to a one-year prison sentence and a 50,000 dinars (500 USD) fine for publishing twelve cartoons of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in the daily Liberte during October and November 2003.

A lower court had already fined Dilem with 50,000 dinars and the appeals court added the prison sentence under an article of the criminal code that allows jail sentences between two months and a year for insulting or defaming the president.

In Mauritania, Khalil Ould Jdoud, editor of the daily Arabic-language Al Akhbar, was attacked by armed men on 16 February, according to reports.

The armed men entered the paper’s office looking for the journalist who had published the day before a report on the financial situation of the Mauritanian BACIM bank. The bank is reportedly suspected of embezzlement in favor of former top officials.

The attack was allegedly led by the half-brother of the bank’s main share-holder, former colonel Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Deh. He had reportedly spoken with the editor on the phone, who suggested the possibility of giving him space for a reply. According to reports, the answer was: “We do not want to deny anything, we are going to kill you.”

Police was alerted and were able to arrest the assailants. According to reports, government sources said it was a case of common crime and that justice will be done, whoever the guilty people are.

In Morocco, the independent weekly Le Journal Hebdomadaire has been condemned to pay 3 million dirham (over 325,000 USD) in damages to a Belgian think tank. Publisher Abubakr Jamai and sub-editor Fahd Iraqi were also fined 50,000 dirhams for defamation. It is the highest fine ever imposed on journalists in Morocco and could lead to the closure of the publication. Le Journal has announced it will appeal the sentence.

A Rabat court condemned the weekly after the Belgium-based European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center alleged it had defamed the center by criticizing a report on Western Sahara issued by the center.

The publication described the report as reflecting the Moroccan official position and that it could possibly have been guided by the Moroccan government.

The same publication has been the target of hostile demonstrations on 14 February in front of its offices in Casablanca protesting for the allegedly re-publishing of the cartoons depicting Mohammed that first appear in a Danish daily in September 2005.

The weekly had published a picture from AFP on 11 February showing a reader of France Soir – a daily that had reproduced the cartons- holding a copy containing the 12 controversial cartoons. The photo illustrated a ten-page report on the cartoons issue. Although the caricatures in the picture were minuscule, the weekly decided to cover up the cartoons with ink.

Also in Morocco, Nour Eddin Al Miftah, Editor-in-Chief of the independent Al Ayam weekly, and Maryam Moukrim, one of its journalists, have received a four-month of suspended prison sentence and a fine of 100,000 dirhams (11,000 USD) by a Rabat court on 14 February.

Both journalists have been sentenced for publishing “false information” and pictures of the royal family without permission. Al Ayam had published on November 2005 a report on the royal harems during the eras of the three Moroccan kings after the independence, namely Mohamed V, Hassan II and Mohamed VI.

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