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Journalist sentenced in absentia to three years' imprisonment for article critical of public hospital

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF condemns the three-year jail sentence in absentia handed down to journalist Amal Eisa, formerly of the Qatari daily "al-Sharq", for "defamation" on the basis of a complaint from the Hamad public hospital in Doha.

"This extremely harsh penalty, even though partly linked to the absence of the journalist from the trial hearing, sends a dangerous signal to all journalists in the emirate", RSF said. The Qatari authorities have made promises to defend press freedom. This should be achieved through serious legal reform, resulting in the decriminalisation of press offences in the country."

A Jordanian national, Eisa was sentenced in absentia to three years in prison on 22 May 2008. Her editor was fined 20,000 rials (approx. 3,500 euros). The Hamad hospital filed a complaint against the newspaper after it carried an article on 9 July 2005 about a mistake in which a living patient was sent to the morgue and the error was only realised when the patient woke up.

The hospital authorities immediately denied the incident had taken place and sued the paper. Eisa left Qatar several months prior to the trial.

Jail sentences are provided for in cases of press offences under Qatari press law. Moreover, the law includes criminal penalties for offences such as "damage to state integrity" or "damage to religion".

Qatar is ranked 79th out of 169 countries in RSF's latest annual press freedom index, published in October 2007.

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