Reporters Without Borders has written to US President George W. Bush urging him to raise the issue of censorship on his 13-18 May visit to counterparts in the Middle East and to obtain guarantees on freedom of information for their citizens.
“We believe it is imperative that the United States of America, through its President, remind its key allies in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel, of the importance of the right to inform and to be informed, and do everything it can to promote a greater freedom of expression in those countries,” the worldwide press freedom organization said in its May 7 letter.
“ Reporters, bloggers, and citizen journalists are crucial witnesses to the events occurring throughout the region. A vigorous press capable of informing their people and of holding those in power accountable is crucial to the future of the peace talks and to the welfare of the entire region” said the organization’s Secretary-General Robert Ménard.
In its letter, Reporters Without Borders urges the US president to press for the release of Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer, who was sentenced to four years in prison on 22 February 2007 for “inciting hatred of Islam” and “insulting President Hosni Mubarak” on his blog.
A state of emergency declared in Egypt after the 1981 assassination of President Anwar al-Sadat is still in force and the authorities constantly harass journalists, often using the courts to bring the media to heel. Ibrahim Issa, editor of the independent weekly al Dustur, was sentenced to six months in prison on 26 March for publishing “false news, damaging the country’s interests and national security”.
King Abdallah Ibn al-Saud (Saudi Arabia)
Live broadcasts have been banned on public television in Saudi Arabia since February 2008 to prevent viewers from airing their grievances. The country also has one of the world’s most filtered Internet networks. Moreover, without any legal framework to defend freedom of expression, Saudi journalists never challenge the government and self-censorship is the rule. The authorities control over the news led to the arrest of blogger Fuad al Farhan, on 10 December 2007, for discussing the “advantages and disadvantages” of being a Muslim on his blog. He has spent five months in prison for exercising his right to free expression online.
The worldwide press freedom organisation also urged President Bush to seek more information about the circumstances of the death of Reuters cameraman Fadel Shanaa, killed in the Gaza Strip on 16 April in a “mistaken shooting” by an Israeli tank.
Israeli Defence Forces
“The Israeli Army must clearly identify those responsible for the shooting and punish them. Israeli soldiers, who are guilty of negligence or responsible for deliberately shooting at journalists, have been exonerated by superiors on several occasions in the past. These practices are unacceptable in a country that purports to apply democratic principles”, the organisation added.
The Israeli Defence Forces feature on Reporters Without Borders’ list of press freedom ‘predators” released on World Press Freedom Day on 3 May. Several journalists are injured every year by real or rubber bullets, or by shards from stun grenades or teargas grenades fired indiscriminately by the Israeli Army.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel (outside Israeli territory) are ranked respectively 148th, 146th and 103rd on Reporters Without Borders worldwide Press Freedom Index which keeps a watch on a total of 169 countries.
Letter to G W. Bush