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"Al-Ayyam" editor and cartoonist receive suspended six-month sentences for cartoon deemed offensive; distribution of newspaper banned in Gaza

(RSF/IFEX) - On 20 February 2008, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard wrote to the Hamas government's Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, about a ban on the daily "Al-Ayyam" in the Gaza Strip:

HE Ismail Haniyeh
Prime Minister of the Hamas Government
Gaza Strip

Dear Prime Minister,

Reporters Without Borders would like to share with you its concern about the significant deterioration in the situation of press freedom in the Gaza Strip.

You have on several occasions expressed your government's desire to guarantee a free and independent press. However, your pledge is contradicted by the suspended sentences of six months in prison passed on 6 February on two Al-Ayyam journalists on a charge of defamation in connection with a cartoon that members of your party regarded as offensive.

Those sentenced were the daily newspaper's editor, Akram Haniyeh, and his cartoonist, Bahaa Al-Boukhari, while the newspaper itself has been banned from distribution in the Gaza Strip. We urge you to have these sentences overturned as they could make it even more difficult for journalists to work in the Gaza Strip. We are worried by the fact that, according to our figures, 22 journalists have been arrested since June of last year, 14 have been threatened in the course of their work, 14 news media have been ransacked and three have been censored.

We are writing to you about this situation, Mr. Prime Minister, because we consider it to be critical for the future of the Palestinian press. Aside from the fact that a cartoon should be regarded as a matter of free expression and not as an offence to you or your party, we believe that the differences between Palestinians should not be allowed to restrict the work of journalists.

We trust you will give this matter your careful consideration.

Sincerely,

Robert Ménard
Secretary-General

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