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Newspaper editor fired over article defending regional identity

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns Ahmad Takrouni's dismissal on 2 August 2009 as editor of "Al Uruba Al Homsiya", a regional newspaper based in Homs, 160 km north of Damascus, as a result of information minister Mohsen Bilal's intervention.

Takrouni believes he was fired for publishing a column by Hassan Al-Safidi on 14 July headlined, "We, the people of Homs, are fanatical about our origins," claiming that regional identity was more important than national identity in Homs.

"This dismissal was arbitrary and unacceptable," Reporters Without Borders said. "The offending article just expressed a personal view and was prompted by the fact that Syrians in the rest of the country make fun of the people of Homs. We salute Takrouni for resolutely defending the article and its content from official criticism. The already limited space that the government allows journalists has been dealt a further blow."

The inhabitants of Homs are the butt of many Syrian jokes, just as the Belgians are the butt of French jokes, the Irish are the butt of British jokes and the Portuguese are the butt of Spanish jokes. As well as insisting on the importance of regional identity, Safidi's article claimed that Homs formed a distinct "community".

It was the use of the term "community" that seems to have particularly upset the nationalist sensibilities of the information ministry and other authorities, sparking an outcry.

Khalaf Al-Miftah, the head of Al-Wahda, an information ministry-controlled organisation representing news media in the provinces, intervened in a semi-official manner to choose a new editor for "Al Uruba Al Homsiya".

"I did not get any angry messages from citizens or local officials following the publication of Safidi's article and I was not expecting my sudden dismissal, which came without warning," Takrouni said. "The only reason was the publication of this article. I regret that the ministry did not appoint a commission to come and examine the case."

The newspaper's circulation had increased from 1,000 to 14,000 since Takrouni took over as editor in 1993.

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