Arab journalists to launch press watchdog

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CAIRO: Journalists from five Arab countries are to launch a media watchdog group in reaction to what they call increased restrictions on press workers in the region, its founders said on Tuesday. Twenty reporters from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Morocco and Libya will launch the Cairo-based Free Media Workers Union in June, an initiative supported by Egyptian-American sociologist and human rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim.

Ibrahim, who was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2001 for tarnishing the image of Egypt, will offer the group logistical assistance from his Ibn Khaldun research centre. He served a year in jail before being freed on appeal. We encourage this initiative because we need more pluralism in our societies – the situation is just getting worse, Ibrahim said.

The watchdog body aims to chart and expose violations of freedom of expression … and contribute to the current efforts to abolish legislation that restricts freedom, founder Yussef Abdel Latif, a journalist for the London-based paper Al-Moraqeb Al-Arabi, told reporters.

The group, which is funded by the current members, will also offer support and financial assistance to the families of jailed reporters.

Last week, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists listed Egypt and Morocco among 10 countries where freedom of the press has slipped most in the past five years.

Judicial harassment is being used increasingly in many of these nations, the report said, citing 85 criminal cases filed against journalists in Egypt between 2004 and 2006.

Morocco, often cited as a regional model for press freedom, is now tied with Tunisia for the dubious distinction of sentencing the most journalists to prison in the Arab world, it added.

Ibrahim was also arrested in 2000 after publishing a critique of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his government. He served 10 months in jail before being freed on bail.

His later conviction in 2001 badly strained relations between Cairo and Washington.

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