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Information minister bans distribution of four foreign newspapers

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the Egyptian government's decision on 19 February 2008 to ban four foreign newspapers that reprinted some of the cartoons that were published by 17 Danish newspapers on 13 February in a show of solidarity on the issue of freedom of expression.

"Banning the distribution of newspapers that reproduced the Mohammed cartoons only strengthens those who have taken the most radical positions on this subject," the press freedom organisation said. "We urge the Egyptian government to reverse this decision and to let civil society decide for itself whether the content of these newspapers was defamatory."

The four newspapers whose issues were banned were Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" and "Die Welt", the London-based "Observer" and the New York-based "Wall Street Journal". The ban was issued by information minister Anas Al-Feki, who told the Egyptian news agency MENA: "Any newspaper or magazine that publishes something offensive towards the Prophet (. . . ) or the three monotheistic religions will be banned."

Article 20 of Egypt's press law allows the information minister to ban reports liable to harm national interest. An issue of the French bimonthly "Historia Thématique" about fundamentalism was banned by Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey in January 2007 on the grounds that it was offensive to religion (see IFEX alert of 26 January 2007).

Meanwhile, an Arab League agreement to restrict the freedom of expression of the region's satellite TV stations - adopted at Egypt's initiative - may have secured its first victim (see alerts of 20 and 13 February 2008). Al-Barakah, a station that had been broadcasting business news for the past seven months, has gone off the air. The reasons are not yet known.

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