Newsletter No 27 25 April 2006
Press Freedom:
Latest Press Freedom News from the Region

» In Iraq, the home of press freedom activist Yaser Abdel Amir was reportedly assaulted on 16 April following threats if he would not abandon his activism.

Abdel Amir is the Iraqi Journalists Rights Defense Association (IJRDA) regional officer in Dialeh.

» In Morocco, the weekly Le Journal Hebdomadaire was sentenced to pay 3 million dirhams (USD 320,000) in damages for defamation. The damages, which are the highest ever imposed to a publication in Morocco, could put the weekly out of business. The newspaper has also been fined 100,000 dirhams (USD 11,000).

The weekly was condemned in a libel suite brought by the Belgium-based European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center (ESISC). The publication described a report issued by ESISC on the Western Sahara as reflecting the Moroccan official position and that it could possibly have been guided by the Moroccan government.

According to press freedom organizations, the defense’s rights were not respected in the trial, which is suspect to have being politically motivated. The sentence was upheld by the Rabat Court of Appeal after the weekly had appealed a first sentence on February. The defense lawyers withdrew from both the appeal hearing and the lower court trial because it was barred from introducing an expert witness.

Editor in Chief Ali Amar said the magazine will have to close down if the ESISC decides to enforce the sentence.

Le Journal Hebdomadaire is one of the most independent publications in Morocco and has been harassed by authorities by its reporting in sensitive issues such as corruption and political taboos. In February a campaign was orchestrated against the weekly after it published a picture of a French reader holding a copy of a France Soir’s issue with the cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. Although the cartoons were no bigger than a few millimeters, Le Journal decided to cover them with black ink.

» In Saudi Arabia, journalist Rabah Al Quwai was released on 22 April according to reports. He had been detained on 3 April and accused of “denigrating Islamic beliefs” in his writings.

Al Quwai, who writes for Shams and Okaz dailies and a number websites, was allegedly forced to sign a statement by which he accepted he had denigrated Islam and that he was not a true Muslim. He would have faced a charge of ‘renunciation to Islam’ if he had not signed the document, a crime that can be punished with death.

Al Quwai has written several articles criticizing religious extremism and the conservative interpretations of the Koran by some Saudi circles. He reportedly received threats in November 2005 from religious extremists.

» In Tunisia, journalist Sherezade Akacha went on hunger strike on 19 April to protest against her dismissal from the pro-government daily Al-Chourouq. She is the second Al-Chourouq journalist to go on hunger strike after her colleague Slim Boukhdir started his on 4 April on the same grounds.

Akacha had been reportedly interrogated and harassed by the newspaper’s management after she refused to be dictated to on how to write an article. A transcription of the interrogation that led to her dismissal was posted on a Tunisian website.

Meanwhile, Boukhdir has lost 11 kilos and has heart problems, according to reports. He does not aim to finish his hunger strike until he gets his salary and his passport back, he said.

Boukhdir, who works for Al-Chourouq and the pan-Arab satellite TV Al-Arabiya, criticized the Tunisian authorities in articles that appeared on the station’s website. The daily has not published any of his articles since November 2005 and his salary is frozen since February.

Sources for the alerts:
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