UAE newspaper suspended, editor and publisher fined

New York, July 6, 2009–A criminal court has suspended a newspaper that reported on a horse-racing scandal, upholding a 2008 ruling. Its editor and publisher were also fined.

The UAE’s Federal Supreme Court upheld on July 1 a November 2008 defamation conviction issued by an appeals court in Abu Dhabi. The ruling called for the suspension of the Arabic-language daily Al-Emarat Al-Youm‎ for 20 days and the fining of editor-in-chief Sami Al-Reyami and Abdullatif Al-Sayegh, the chief executive of the newspaper’s publisher, the Arab Media Goup, to 20,000 UAE dirhams (US$5,400) each, according to local news reports. The court ruling cannot be appealed. The suspension took effect as of Sunday, according to local press reports.

The Arab Media Group said that it “will fully adhere to the court’s decision with immediate effect,” reported the National, an Abu-Dhabi-based English-language newspaper. The Web site of Al-Emarat Al-Youm today was blank

“We are disappointed by the Federal Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the suspension of Al-Emarat Al-Youm,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ program coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa. “Not only does this suspension deprive the public from information but it also illustrates the inadequacy of the UAE’s media law.”

The case stemmed from an October 2006 article that alleged that a company called Warsan Stables had given steroids to horses to improve their performance in an Abu Dhabi race, CPJ research shows.

The initial trial started in January 2008 and months later a court in Abu Dhabi ruled in favor of the company, and the Abu Dhabi Federal Court upheld the decision of the court of first instance. The ruling was based on the 1980 press law, which allows courts to suspend publications and impose criminal penalties.

In January, the Federal National Council approved a draft of a new media law to replace the 1980 law, which is currently still in effect. The draft awaits approval by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates, before it becomes law. CPJ called on Sheikh Khalifa to reject the law because it imposes harsh penalties for vaguely defined press violations, including the suspension of publications for a minimum of six months, permanent revocation of publishing licenses, and fines as high as 5,000,000 dirhams (US$1,361,000).