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Wed 17 Oct 2007 12:37 PM

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Egypt, Jordan slammed for press freedom repression

Countries witness deterioration over past year, but Gulf improving, report says.

Press freedom in Jordan and Egypt has seen a significant deterioration over the past year, according to rights group Reporters Without Borders.

Both countries dropped 13 places in the group’s annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index, released on Tuesday, following high-profile government clampdowns on free speech in both countries.

The group described the restriction of press freedom in Egypt as “disturbing”, following several incidents of President Hosni Mubarak’s government jailing journalists and rights activists for speaking out.

Egyptian courts last month sentenced the editor and two journalists of an opposition newspaper to two years in jail for "damaging the image of justice", and sentenced four editors to a year in prison and fined 20,000 Egyptian pounds ($3,500) each for “harming public interest”.

In Jordan former parliamentarian Ahmad Oweidi Abbadi was sentenced to two years behind bars this month for criticising government corruption on his party’s website.

Reporters Without Borders described Jordan as a country where “there is absolutely no respect for the right to inform and be informed”.

The deterioration in Jordan and Egypt is in stark contrast to the improvement in press freedom in the Gulf, according to the index.

Kuwait, the UAE and Qatar saw their ranking improve, while Saudi Arabia climbed out of the bottom 20 countries in the world for the first time.

“There has been progress by some Gulf countries - Kuwait, the UAE and Qatar. The authorities have displayed a tendency to be more open-minded and, in some cases, initiatives have been taken with a view to liberalising press laws,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“But self-censorship continues to be widespread in the press in these countries.

“Saudi journalists enjoyed something of a respite in the past year. But the controlled exercised by the information ministry’s media surveillance committee prevents the Wahhabi-led kingdom from rising higher in the ranking.”

Of the 169 countries in the index, Iceland and Norway came in joint-first position while Eritrea replaced North Korea as most repressive country for press freedom.

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