Attacks on the Press in 2008: Middle East/North Africa Developments


• In September, the Supreme Court overturned the defamation convictions of Editor-in-Chief Omar Belhouchet and columnist Chawki Amari of the Algiers-based independent daily El Watan, the newspaper’s lawyer, Zoubeir Soudani, told CPJ. The high court ordered a new trial. The original trial court had convicted the two journalists of insulting the governor of the northeastern province of Jijel, and issued a fine of 1 million dinars (US$15,000). The case stemmed from a December 2006 column in which Amari accused the governor of using public funds to buy a car for his mistress, Soudani said. The governor denied the accusation.

• A criminal court in Algiers sentenced El Watan editor Belhouchet and reporter Salima Tlemcani to three-month prison terms on December 22. The two were convicted of defamation in connection with a 2004 article that questioned the practices of an Algiers faith healer, defense lawyer Khaled Bourayou said. The lawyer told CPJ that he was appealing the verdict. The healer filed the defamation complaint after the Algerian Physicians Syndicate, following up on the El Watan story, conducted its own investigation and shut the man’s practice.
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• Editor Taher al-Adwan and reporter Sahar Qassam of the Arabic daily Al-Arab al-Youm, former Ad-Dustour editor Osama Sharif, and Ad-Dustour reporter Fayez Louzi were each sentenced in March to three months in prison for “insulting the judiciary and commenting on its rulings,” according to Jordanian news reports. The charges stemmed from stories published in 2006 about a Jordanian who had filed a lawsuit challenging a government decision concerning his citizenship, The Jordan Times reported. The journalists remained free pending appeal.

• Reporter Abdul Hedi al-Majali was sentenced in March to three months in prison on charges of defaming the former director-general of the state-run Jordanian Center for Information in an article published on the Web site of the daily Al-Rai. The sentence was stayed pending appeal, according to local journalists.
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• In January, a court fined Al-Jazeera 60,000 dinars (US$220,000) for “insulting the state,” according to news agencies. The case was related to a 2002 program in which a guest commentator held Kuwait responsible for the 1990 Iraqi invasion, according to news reports. After the program, the Kuwaiti government closed Al-Jazeera’s Kuwait bureau for nearly two and a half years.
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• Ahmed Ould Neda, a reporter with the independent news site Al-Akhbar, was arrested on August 8 and told to hand over videotape to security forces, he told CPJ. He was detained for three hours, but he said he did not give the tape to officers. Neda had been filming a demonstration against the new government, which seized power in a bloodless coup on August 6.

• Mohamed Nema Omar, publisher of the weekly paper Al-Houriya, and Mohamed Ould Abdelatif, a columnist with the weekly, were detained July 21 after the newspaper published a commentary accusing three judges of taking bribes to release alleged drug traffickers, according to local and international news agencies. The journalists were released on bail in September, Omar told CPJ. No trial date had been set by late year.
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• Authorities released blogger Fouad Ahmed al-Farhan on April 26 after holding him without charge since December 2007, according to news agencies. On December 10, 2007, Saudi security agents detained al-Farhan at the Jeddah office of his technology company and seized a laptop from his home, officials told CPJ at the time. Before his arrest, al-Farhan sent an e-mail to friends saying he had received a phone call from the Saudi Interior Ministry advising him that he would be picked up for questioning, according to CPJ interviews. In the e-mail, he said he believed he was being summoned “because I wrote about the political prisoners here in Saudi Arabia and they think I’m running an online campaign promoting their issue.” His blog was inactive in late year.
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• In March, the Ministry of Communications ordered Internet cafe owners to get identification from all customers, Reuters reported. The ministry directed cafe owners to record names and times of use and submit the documentation regularly to authorities, the news agency said. Human rights groups noted that authorities harass and detain bloggers perceived as antigovernment.

• Authorities continued to block Web sites considered critical of the government or supportive of Syrian opposition groups, according to Human Rights Watch and local groups. More than 170 Web sites were blocked, among them news, cultural, human rights, and opposition sites, according to Syrian rights activists and bloggers.
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• The office of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan revoked accreditation for seven senior reporters on November 13, according to the newspaper Hurriyet. The office did not cite a reason for pulling the accreditations. The decision effectively blocked the reporters from covering the activities of the prime minister’s office. Fatma Cozen, a reporter with the national news channel Star TV, who was among those affected, said officials had previously told her to stop asking questions at press conferences, Hurriyet reported.
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• A court of appeals in Abu Dhabi upheld a defamation conviction against the daily newspaper Emarat Alyoum, suspending the newspaper for 20 days starting on November 20 and fining Editor-in-Chief Sami al-Araimi 20,000 dirhams (US$5,445) according to local news reports. The case stemmed from an October 2006 article that accused a United Arab Emirates-based company of giving steroids to horses in an Abu Dhabi race, according to the newspaper Al-Ittihad.
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Pre-empting the Satellite TV Revolution


Egypt Morocco
Iran Sudan
Iraq Tunisia
Israel /Occupied Palestinian Territory Yemen
Lebanon Other Attacks and Developments in the Region

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