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IFJ demands overhaul of repressive media laws

(IFJ/IFEX) - 29 April 2009 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today called for a radical overhaul of media laws in the Middle East.

Launching its 'Breaking the Chains' annual report on press freedom violations in the Arab World and Iran, the IFJ said that journalists' unions throughout the region are demanding the repeal of all laws that lead to the jailing of journalists.

"It has been a turbulent year for journalists," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "In many countries there have been more court cases against editors and reporters, but journalists are fighting back."

The IFJ says journalists work under the constant threat of jail, but they are also aware that people in the region are "hungry for independent news and credible journalism." The 'Breaking the Chains' report, which was compiled jointly by the International Federation of Journalists and its member unions, records the cases of jailed journalists in the past year, identifies the key legal articles that need reform in each country and reports on the major developments in the past year.

Many countries have media laws that permit the jailing of journalists for undermining the reputation of the state, the president, the monarch or the religion. The laws are also used to suppress reporting of corruption or scrutiny of government actions.

- in Yemen, Abdul- Karim al-Khaiwani was jailed for links with terrorists and then released on a presidential pardon in September following months of protests. In January, his original conviction was confirmed by the courts, but then the President announced to the Congress of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate that the case against Khaiwani would soon be closed.

- in Iraq, the shock assassination of the President of the Iraqi Union of Journalists and subsequent assassination attempt against his successor recall the continued pressure under which journalists work despite the significant improvement in security overall.

- in Palestine, five journalists were killed by the Israeli military during the Gaza invasion. Palestinian journalists have also been victims of political disputes between Fatah and Hamas, with both sides guilty of arbitrarily imprisoning representatives of opposing media. Last month Hamas confiscated the passport of the Sakher Abu El Oun, leader of the Gaza Branch of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, following his organisation of the IFJ Mission to Gaza in January.

- Iran remains the biggest prosecutor of journalists with ten cases recorded. These figures are down from last year which is a reflection of the effectiveness of the control of the authorities and the limited number of independent titles remaining. The recent jailing of former US journalist Roxana Saberi, who received an eight-year jail sentence on spying charges by closed revolutionary courts, highlights the precarious and risky business of journalism in Iran.

"A change in legislation is necessary, but we also need a change in the culture and an understanding of the role of journalism in society," said White. "For this reason the IFJ has launched its Ethical Journalism Initiative Campaign to strengthen media, to open new dialogues with government and the public, and to promote quality journalism."

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 123 countries worldwide.

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