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IFJ report outlines regional press freedom situation as campaign launched to "break the chains" confining media

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 30 May 2008 IFJ press release:

IFJ Affiliates in Arab World and Iran Launch the Breaking the Chains Campaign

Journalists' unions in membership of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) across the Arab World and Iran launched a comprehensive campaign on press freedom, following a regional conference held in Casablanca 19/21st May.

The Breaking the Chains' press freedom campaign was officially launched and the report edited during the meeting. The campaign urges a general decriminalisation of press offences and condemns arrest, disproportionate fines, kidnappings and violence against media employees and employers. It demands eliminating imprisonment as a radical sanction used to intimidate journalists and to silence independent media.

The Breaking the Chains' report lists the main legal obstacles to freedom of speech in the Arab World and Iran and records cases of sentenced and jailed journalists. These cases give a flavour of the conditions in which journalists work and the atmosphere of intimidation and fear that currently accompanies the exercise of journalism throughout the region.

The Middle East remains a region in which oppression of media is most intense. Conflicts have created an extremely dangerous environment for journalists, resulting in a total of 65 media workers killed in Iraq in 2007.

Seeking to silence moderate opinion, radicals attack reporters every day. At the same time, conflicts and internal political battles have become useful smokescreens for governments trying to crack down on journalists. The imposition of state of emergency or excuses based upon security, are standard alibis to justify the jailing of journalists.

In a region hungry for peace, stability and democratic development, key elements for change are more open government, more pluralism in politics and the press, and more engagement in the public information space by citizens at all levels. Writing about politics, social, religious or economic issues in a tense global environment requires sensitive and careful handling; it does not imply muzzling public debate.

In a 2003-42 resolution, the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights "Calls upon States to refrain from the use of imprisonment or the imposition of fines for offences relating to the media which are disproportionate to the gravity of the offence and which violate international human rights law."

In July 2007, the Federation of Arab Journalists (FAJ) launched in Morocco its Observatory on press and media freedom, to monitor the state of press freedom and document the social and professional conditions of journalists throughout the Arab world. This event was welcomed as a huge Leap forward by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the international media community.

Despite these positive developments, optimism was short-lived. In February 2008, Arab governments agreed to give state control over satellite broadcasters operating in their countries. Governments of the Arab League adopted a charter that mirrors repressive laws already in place in some countries which limit free expression and permit the prosecution of journalists who criticise their governments. Qatar and Lebanon are the only two countries who did not sign up the charter.

The Breaking the Chains' campaign urges a general decriminalisation of press offences and condemns arrest, disproportionate fines, kidnappings and violence against media employees and employers. It demands eliminating imprisonment as a radical sanction used to intimidate journalists and to silence independent media.

This report lists the main legal obstacles to freedom of speech in the Arab World and Iran and records cases of sentenced and jailed journalists. These cases give a flavour of the conditions in which journalists work. They create an intolerable atmosphere of intimidation and fear that currently accompanies the exercise of journalism throughout the region.

Breaking the Chains is an initiative of the IFJ and its affiliates in the Arab World and Iran. Launched in June 2007, this campaign is not just about exposing bad laws and poor governance; it is also helping to build professional solidarity among the journalists in the region. Working together, journalists and their unions are building a new and vigorous reality about the future of ethical and independent journalism. Change will not happen overnight, but it will come fast and more effectively when journalists and other media professionals stand up for their rights.

This report records the main legal repressive laws for media and cases of attacked journalists. It is not exhaustive. We mention cases of journalists being charged, sentenced, arrested illegally for a few hours or a few days, or those unlawfully held in prolonged pre-trial detention. We rely on the information provided by the IFJ affiliates in the region and verify it with other sources, including recognised press freedom, human rights and media support agencies.

For the full report, see: http://mena.ifj.org/assets/docs/051/096/f086033-b844f60.pdf

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