Tunisia, Egypt ban newspaper editions on controversy over pope’s comments

New York, September 27, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by Tunisian and Egyptian government decisions to ban recent issues of European newspapers addressing the controversy caused by remarks about Islam made by Pope Benedict XVI.

“Banning newspapers is unacceptable, and it is no solution in furthering the cause of mutual understanding and respect,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said.

Tunisian newspapers reported that the Ministry of the Interior, which effectively has final say as to what Tunisians are permitted to read, decided to ban the September 19 issue of the French daily Le Figaro for running an opinion piece critical of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. The ministry said it found the piece harmful to Islam.

In Egypt, Information Minister Anas al-Fiqi banned issues of Le Figaro, the German daily Frankfurter Allegemein, and the weekly international edition of Britain’s The Guardian. Al-Fiqi said the banned issues carried pieces scorning Islam and claiming that it was spread by the sword.

In a lecture this month at the University of Regensburg in Germany, Benedict cited centuries-old quotations asserting that Islam was spread by the sword. Use of the quotations, which the pope said did not reflect his own opinions, provoked widespread anger in Muslim countries. State-controlled media often fueled such anger by running angry reactions and ignoring voices advocating tolerance.

“Autocratic governments are seizing upon the genuine sensitivities caused by the pope’s remarks as an opportunity to stifle press freedom and deny journalists, intellectuals, and other citizens the basic right to free expression,” Simon added.