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Two journalists face libel charges, one banned from writing for state media

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF condemns the repeated harassment of journalist Waddah Muhyiddin during the past few months. Muhyiddin, who specialises in investigating corruption, has been the target of four lawsuits and has been banned from writing for the state news media.

"Corruption is a sensitive subject anywhere in the world, but in a country where press freedom is systematically flouted, journalists who try to tackle it are particularly vulnerable and are exposed to legal action of which the outcome is rarely favourable," the organisation said.

The information ministry wrote to the state radio and TV broadcaster and to the editors of the government newspapers, including "Tishrin", "Al-Thawra" and "Syria Times", to notify them of the ban on publishing any story by Muhyiddin, who has been accused of spreading false information by the Central Commission for Control and Investigation, an official body that investigates fraud in state agencies.

Muhyiddin has been writing for the Syrian weeklies "Al-Nur" and "Bukraat Daou'" for nine years. Based in Aleppo (360 km north of Damascus), he has specialised in covering corruption in both the state and private sector and in the judicial apparatus. In a story he wrote for "Boukraat Daou'" in October 2007, he criticised the Central Commission for Control and Investigation and said it should be under the control of parliament rather than the prime minister.

Muhyiddin told RSF he was surprised by the ban as he did not write for the government media. "They are doing his in order to upset me and scare my colleagues," he said. Four libel suits have been brought against him in the past three months, he said, adding that he goes to the courts at least twice a week.

Meanwhile, the trial of journalist Rashid Issa of the daily "Tishrin" on a libel charge is due to start before a court in Damascus on 27 December 2007. Tarek Hokan, the legal representative of the Syrian Centre for Media and Press Freedom, said Issa had not been officially notified of the case, which is the result of a complaint brought by a state theatre director he accused of fraud in an article in September.

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