Middle East - Bush and Sarkozy urged to raise freedom of expression during Middle East tours

    MONTREAL, Jan. 11 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders today called
on US President Georges W. Bush and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who are
both making official visits to the Middle East this month, to use their trips
to promote freedom of expression, which is widely violated in the region.
    "The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and hostility from
Iran and Syria all reasons for the western countries to want to ensure support
from Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf states, but one should not forget that these
US allies also are characterized by a glaring lack of democracy," the press
freedom organisation said.
    "With few exceptions, the news media are as repressed as the societies
themselves in the Middle East," Reporters Without Borders said.
"Self-censorship is widely practised within news organisations, which take
care not to overstep the boundaries. Journalists do not dare to write about
religion or their countries' leaders. But despite taking so much care, they
are still exposed to harassment and reprisals."
    The organisation added: "Access to news and information has been
revolutionised by satellite TV news stations and above all the Internet, which
today plays a key role in the struggle for democracy in the Middle East. For
this reason, the repression of online journalists and cyber-dissidents is
growing steadily. Two bloggers, an Egyptian and a Saudi, are currently jailed
because of the comments they posted online."
    Egypt and Saudi Arabia are both on the Reporters Without Borders list of
Internet Enemies. Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer, 23, has been held since 6
November 2006 and is now serving a three-year sentence for "inciting hatred of
Islam" and another one-year sentence for insulting the President Hosni
Mubarak. He often posted blog entries critical of the government's religious
and authoritarian abuses. He also criticise Egypt's leading religious
institutions, including the Sunni University of Al-Azhar, where he studied
    Saudi blogger Ahmad Fouad Al-Farhan, 32, has been held since 10 December
in Jeddah's Dhaban prison. The authorities are not yet required to reveal why
he is being held because, under Saudi law, a person may be held for
questioning for six months.
    Foreign journalists who are based in the Middle East or who visit the
region can also run into trouble. One of the latest cases was Abu Dhabi-based
French journalist Aurélien Colly, a correspondent of RFI and France 24, who
was denied entry to Qatar on 30 November without explanation although he had
received accreditation to cover the Gulf Cooperation Council meeting taking
place in Doha.

    President Sarkozy is to visit Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab
Emirates from 13 to 15 January. President Bush today completed a visit to
Israel and the West Bank, and set off for the rest of a tour through the
region that will take him to Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Saudi
Arabia and finally, on 16 January, Egypt.

For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, secretary general,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514)
521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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