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The Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) has decreed that journalists should not be jailed for their work - two days after two Dubai-based journalists were sentenced to prison for libel, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) report.

The ruler of Dubai, who is also the U.A.E. Vice President and Prime Minister, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, declared on 25 September that other measures can be taken to penalise a journalists who commits an offence but jailing is not one of them.

The Prime Minister also called for the faster enactment of a new press law that decriminalises press offences, in line with amendments introduced by the National Media Council.

His move comes two days after two journalists, an Indian and an Egyptian working for the English-language daily "Khaleej Times", were convicted of libel and sentenced to two months in jail. They have since been released on bail and are appealing their sentence, says IFJ.

Two UAE nationals were also recently sentenced to jail for defamation on the website in Ras al-Khaimah, and are appealing the rulings, reports HRinfo. The website has been closed. HRinfo urges the Prime Minister to extend the new law to include online journalists.

HRinfo and IFJ hope the ruling will set a precedent for the decriminalisation of media law in the Middle East, especially in the wake of five editors in Egypt being sentenced to prison for libel. "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," says IFJ.

Visit these links:
- IFJ:
- "Breaking the Chains", IFJ report on problems facing journalists in the Middle East (English and Arabic):
(2 October 2007)

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