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CIHRS provides an overview of free expression abuses in Arab World

Freedom of expression came under relentless assault throughout the Arab world this year, says a new report by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS). "Bastion of Impunity, Mirage of Reform" outlines how different regimes track down and punish defenders of democratic free speech. The report provides a shocking overview of the deterioration of human rights in the Arab region. It reveals the systematic way in which dissent is crushed, where torture of imprisoned journalists and activists and denial of due process of rights is routine.

The report reviews major developments in human rights during 2009 in 12 countries: Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Yemen.

In Egypt there were broad attacks on bloggers and Internet activists; dozens were taken to undisclosed locations, and some have been detained for more than two years without charge. Dozens of people have died in police custody.

More than 225 websites have been blocked in Syria. There is no independent media in Saudi Arabia and bloggers are arbitrarily arrested. Bahraini authorities continue to block thousands of political, news and advocacy websites. Night raids are carried out on newspaper headquarters in Sudan, where security forces censor material before the paper goes to press.

Many states clamp down on free expression and other human rights using legal tools, while human rights organisations and press freedom groups are often shut down.

Legislative reform in Syria gave security forces more immunity from crimes, preventing accountability for abuses. Syrian military intelligence jailed dozens of democracy activists. In Tunisia, changes to electoral law permitted censorship and helped ensure the President's re-election. CIHRS says, "the authoritarian police state continued its unrestrained attacks on political activists, journalists, human rights defenders, trade unionists, and others involved in social protest."

In Yemen, journalists and activists who expose abuses in the Saada war in the north, as well as the conflict in the south, are routinely abducted.

Emergency laws are used as an excuse to curtail freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. In Algeria, terrorism suspects have been held up to 10 years without trial or prosecuted in military tribunals.

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