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"Al Ayyam" manager receives suspended jail sentence over controversial cartoon; IPI calls on Hamas-led government in Gaza to lift distribution ban on newspaper

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a 25 February 2008 IPI press release:

IPI calls on the Hamas-led government in Gaza to unequivocally lift the distribution ban on Al Ayyam newspaper

Vienna, 25 February 2008 - The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in over 120 countries, condemns the imposition of a ban on the distribution of a prominent Palestinian daily newspaper in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas-led government.

According to information before IPI, on 3 February, the pro-Fatah Al Ayyam newspaper was banned from circulation after a Gaza court decided that it violated the publishing law by printing a certain cartoon. The court also imposed suspended jail sentences on the cartoonist, Baha Al Bukhari, the publication's editor-in-chief, Akram Haniyeh, and its Gaza Strip manager, Sami Qishawi.

The cartoon at issue depicts Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, with the caption "illegitimate" appearing in the bottom right hand corner. In an interview, the head of the Hamas government's press office, Hassan Abu Hashish, indicated that the published cartoon "was aimed against the Legislative Council" and therefore violated the publishing law.

This incident is only the most recent example of what appears to be a trend of publication shut-downs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. After Hamas' takeover of Gaza, a similar case was reported in the Fatah-led West Bank, where two newspapers affiliated with Islamic movements - Al Risala and Al Istiqlal - were banned from distribution by the Palestinian Authority on the grounds that the language used to express their opposition "promoted incitement."

"The decision to ban the Al Ayyam newspaper and to impose jail sentences on the cartoonist and two other high-ranking employees is a clear violation of their freedom of expression," commented IPI Director David Dadge. "IPI calls on the Gaza court to unequivocally reverse both the ban and the prison sentences, and urges all Palestinian factions to refrain from abusing restrictive press laws to interfere with the local media for political purposes."

IPI, the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, is dedicated to the furtherance and safeguarding of press freedom, the protection of freedom of opinion and expression, the promotion of the free flow of news and information, and the improvement of the practices of journalism.

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