Newsletter No 21 07 March 2006
Press Freedom:
Latest Press Freedom News From the Region

In Algeria, Hakim Laalam, journalist for Le Soir d’Algerie daily, was convicted on 1 March of insulting President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and received a six-month prison sentence.

Also in relation to the charges, the journalist received a six-month suspended sentence, Le Soir d’Algerie reported.

Laalam wrote an article entitled “spanking” and published by the daily Liberte on 21 August 2003 as a gesture of solidarity with Le Soir d’Algerie, closed at that time for not paying its debts to the state printers.

Farid Alilat, managing editor of the daily Liberté, was subsequently arrested at his newspaper's offices and brought before an Algiers court, where he was questioned for five hours about the column.

In Lebanon, Tawfiq Khattab, Editor-In-Chief of Al Mustaqbal newspaper, and journalist Fares Khashan are facing criminal charges for slandering President Emile Lahoud.

The charges stem from a 24 February interview with Johnny Abdo, a former Lebanese Ambassador to France and former chief of intelligence, who criticized the president. In the interview, he said that “under Lahoud’s mandate, the Presidential Palace was turned into an unsuitable place to hold dialogue, and Lahoud’s presence violates the constitution, because the constitution says the president is the symbol of unity” and that the president had a LL 1,5 billion (one million USD) private budget for gifts he squandered on politicians he needed favors from, the Daily Star reported.

According to Al Mustaqbal, the two journalists and Abdo will appear in front of the tribunal on 13 March.

In Syria, Shaaban Abboud, correspondent in Damascus for An-Nahar Lebanese daily, was reportedly arrested on 3 March and investigated by the military attorney general on 5 March.

Abboud is accused of “publishing news that damage national security” and faces up to three years of prison according to the martial laws effective in Syria since 1963.

According to the reports, Abboud recently published a press report that referred changes in the leadership of the Syrian Military Intelligence Services. This information had formerly been published by websites directed by the intelligence services, the reports said.

In Tunisia, 1 March marked the first anniversary of the imprisonment of Mohammed Abbou, lawyer, human rights activist and internet writer, found guilty of “disturbing public order” and “insulting the judiciary”. According to reports from human rights groups, Abbou’s trial was an unfair one and the charges highly questionable.

Sources for the alerts:
Arab organization for the Defense of Expression & Press Freedom (AODEPF), Paris
Arab Press Freedom Watch (AFPW), London
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), New York
International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), Canada
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), France