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Newspaper under pressure because of political tension

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the distribution ban which the Syrian authorities have imposed on the privately-owned Lebanese daily "Al-Diyar" since 22 April 2009 and the threats that have been made against its editor, Charles Ayoub, a Lebanese politician with a pro-Syrian stance.

The ban follows the publication in the newspaper of a series of columns by Ayoub criticising another politician with a pro-Syrian position, Michel Aoun, accusing him of corruption. The two men are rival candidates in the June parliamentary elections for the Mount Lebanon district.

"Political tension is mounting in Lebanon in the run-up to the election," Reporters Without Borders said. "The Syrian ban on 'Al-Diyar' is further evidence of this. Nonetheless, the political in-fighting should spare the media and allow room for a wide range of views to be expressed."

"Al-Diyar" has been having problems ever since Ayoub announced that he would be a rival pro-Syrian candidate to Aoun in the election. Several issues were censored in Syria in recent months. The activities of its journalists have been monitored and Ayoub was told he would be killed if he did not stop publishing his controversial columns.

The Syrian distribution ban, introduced on 22 April until further notice, has reinforced the impression that the pro-Syrian camp has closed ranks against Ayoub's candidacy in the elections.

Ayoub told Reporters Without Borders: "I refuse to change the content of my newspaper despite the warnings I have received. I will continue to express my opinions about the elections and the candidates, and about corruption. For example, I proposed to Michel Aoun that we both release our bank account details for the sake of more transparency. I am surprised by this ban, but it is the censors who decide."

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