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Prime minister decriminalises press offences

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 26 September 2007 IFJ media release:

IFJ Welcomes Legal Breakthrough as Emirates End jail Threat to Journalists

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today welcomed a decree by the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that journalists should not be jailed for their work, setting a precedent for the decriminalisation of media law in the region.

"We welcome this decision by the United Arab Emirates to end the criminalisation of press offences and to support open and independent journalism," said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. "We hope that the UAE will serve as a model in the region and that other countries will follow suit with similar changes in their own laws."

Prime Minister Mohammad Bin Rashid All Maktoom decreed that no one should imprison any journalist because of his or her work, saying that there are procedures to be taken against any journalist committing an offense but jailing is not one of them.

The prime minister wants to see a new press law with amendments that drop jailing as a penalty for press offences enacted very quickly.

The decree comes after two Dubai-based journalists were sentenced to two months in jail after being convicted of libel. The two journalists, an Indian and an Egyptian working for the English-language daily Khaleej Times, have been released on bail and are appealing their sentence, according to press reports.

In another recent case, two UAE nationals were also recently sentenced to jail for a defamation conviction stemming from their work on an Internet site in UAE member Ras al-Khaimah. According to reports, they are appealing their rulings and their website has been closed.

The IFJ has been campaigning worldwide for an end to criminal media laws, which can land journalists in jail for defamation and other press offences. It joins its affiliate, the Journalists' Association of the UAE, in applauding this victory.

"Breaking the Chains," a recent IFJ report on the problems facing media and journalists in the Middle East, called for reform of legal regimes that are a barrier to press freedom. Most countries in the region still criminalise the work of journalists.

The IFJ hopes that a change in the law in the United Arab Emirates will be the first of many in press laws in the Middle East.

"This is not just an important day for journalists in the UAE; it is an important day for journalists throughout the region," White said.

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 114 countries worldwide.

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