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Government censors Al Jazeera, seizes tapes of interview with prince

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has condemned the confiscation by the Jordanian authorities of the videotapes of an interview by the pan-Arab satellite TV station Al-Jazeera with King Abdallah's uncle, Prince Hassan Bin Talal. The tapes were seized from Al-Jazeera journalist Ghassan Ben Jeddou at Amman airport after he interviewed the prince on 18 April 2007.

"Such abusive practices, which we keep on seeing in Jordan, show that press freedom is accorded little importance," Reporters Without Borders said. "The work of journalists is often hampered by arbitrary decisions. King Abdallah has repeatedly promised to defend civil rights, especially through his 'Jordan First' programme for promoting development and social cohesion. We call on him to keep his promises, as individual freedoms are still often violated in his country."

Al Jazeera's Beirut bureau chief and the presenter of a Saturday programme called "Open Dialogue," Ben Jeddou went to Amman specially to interview Prince Hassan about Middle Eastern issues. The prince talked about US policies in the region, sectarian conflicts and the peace initiative discussed at the most recent Arab League summit. All of the videotapes and photos of the interview were taken from Ben Jeddou when he returned to the airport after the interview.

He told Reporters Without Borders that the tapes were seized because he referred in the interview to a US report mentioning a Saudi official's involvement in financing Sunnis to fight Hezbollah. There was a reference to the report in an article by Seymour M. Hersh in "The New Yorker" on 5 March.

Jordanian government spokesman Nasser Judeh confirmed the confiscation of the videotapes without giving any explanation. Ben Jeddou said the authorities told him that some of the things said in the interview could affect Jordan's diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. Prince Hassan was reportedly not told in advance that the videotapes would be seized. His press spokesman said the prince gave the interview as a "private citizen" and that his comments were "neutral."

This is not the first time Al-Jazeera has had problems in Jordan. Amman bureau chief Yasser Abu Hilala was briefly detained on 8 June 2006 as he interviewed the brother-in-law of Abu Musab Al-Zarkawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda's Iraqi branch. He was unable to continue the interview.

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