IFJ Calls for United Nations to Demand Release of Arab Journalists Held in Cartoons Row

The International Federation of Journalists is pressing international leaders at the level of the European Union and the United Nations to use their influence on the governments of Algeria, Jordan, the Yemen and Syria to free journalists who have been arrested or detained for publishing cartoons which have caused outrage in some Muslim communities around the world.

“At a time when international tensions are high, particularly in the Middle East, it is appalling that journalists are being jailed for carrying out professional duties,” said Christopher Warren, IFJ President, on the eve of the opening of a world conference of press freedom groups in Brussels this weekend.

“Governments and international organisations must be uncompromising in their support for free expression and they must not allow these journalists to be victimised,” he said. “As press freedom groups gather in Brussels to discuss the perilous conditions in which free expression finds itself there must be clear and unequivocal condemnation of these arrests and pressure applied for our colleagues to be released.”

The IFJ says that the arrest and charging of journalists – some of whom face long prison terms if convicted – reveals a profound intolerance that must be challenged.

Two Yemeni newspapers have been shut down, and the government has placed their editors under investigation. Three journalists have been charged. One of them, Mohammed al-Asadi, and the Yemen Observer's chief editor was taken into custody and formally charged with printing materials offensive to the Prophet. Bail was denied.

Mr Al-Asadi reprinted a version of the Danish caricatures under a thick black banner that was meant to obscure the offending image, but the banner, in the print run of the newspaper, was insufficiently black, and some details of the drawings could be distinguished under the dark ink. The cartoons appeared in the newspaper in order to illustrate a story about Yemeni protests over the cartoon incident.

The IFJ has already denounced the arrest of the publishers of Errissala (The Letter) and Essafir (The Ambassador) after they reprinted the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Postens. The two weeklies were suspended. Last week the publisher of the weekly Iqra (Read) was jailed and the paper suspended for the same reason.

In Syria after violent protests last week in the capital, Damascus criminal charges have since been filed against a journalist who called for peaceful dialogue to settle the dispute. Following his arrest on 7 February, journalist Adel Mahfouz was charged with insulting public religious sentiment. He faces up to three years in jail if found guilty. His arrest took place hours after the publication of an article arguing that violent protests against the cartoons reinforced a mistaken perception that violence and Islam were linked.

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The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in over 110 countries