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Saudi blogger, director of Syrian media center prevented from traveling to free press forum

(WAN/IFEX) - The following is a WAN press release:

Beirut, Lebanon, 11 December 2008
World's Press Condemns Travel Restrictions on Arab Journalists

Authorities in Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Syria have prevented four Arab journalists and human rights activists from attending the Arab Free Press Forum, an annual gathering in Beirut, Lebanon, that examines how independent media can be effective despite widespread repression in the region.

The travel restrictions drew condemnation from the World Association of Newspapers, the organiser of the event.

"The journalists were prevented from attending to keep them from testifying about press freedom restrictions in their countries," WAN said in a statement, which condemned the actions and called on the Tunisian, Saudi Arabian and Syrian governments to stop harassing independent journalists and bloggers and allow them to travel and to speak freely.

Airport police in Tunisia on Wednesday prevented journalist Litfi Hidouri and human rights lawyer and writer Mohamed Abbou from boarding a plane to Beirut, where the two-day conference begins on Friday. Mr Hidouri was placed in detention, where he was reportedly still being held Thursday evening, and Mr Abbou was allowed to return to his home. WAN called for the immediate release of Mr Hidouri.

Saudi blogger Fouad Al-Farhan, who was scheduled to speak on a panel examining the changing face of Arab blogging, was prevented from boarding his flight on Wednesday. He had recently been released from prison but was unaware that he was banned from traveling.

Mazen Darwish, Director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, was also prevented from leaving his country. It was the second time he was prevented from attending the Forum.

Mr Abbou and Mr Hidouri were scheduled to participate on a panel that will examine the increased censorship and harassment facing journalists and civil society activists in Tunisia.

The Arab Free Press Forum, organised by WAN and the Lebanese daily An-Nahar, annually draws independent journalists from across the Arab world to Beirut to address the challenges and opportunities facing Arab media. Full details of the conference can be found at http://www.wan-press.org/arabfreepressforum

The Paris-based WAN, the global organisation for the newspaper industry, defends and promotes press freedom and the professional and business interests of newspapers world-wide. Representing 18,000 newspapers, its membership includes 77 national newspaper associations, newspaper companies and individual newspaper executives in 102 countries, 12 news agencies and 11 regional and world-wide press groups.

For further information on the Hidouri and Abbou cases, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/99256/

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