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Middle East
Arab journalists urge more freedom
Workshop on freedom of speech deplores culture of censorship in the region.
Last Modified: 26 Oct 2009 15:49 GMT
The two-day workshop was organised jointly
by Al Jazeera and Unesco 

Arab journalists have deplored media censorship in their countries and called for greater freedom at a gathering held in the Qatari capital, Doha, to discuss freedom of speech in the region.

The two-day forum that ended on Monday was organised by Al Jazeera's Public Liberties & Human Rights department in co-operation with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). 

Speakers condemned tight censorship in Arab countries and blamed a censorship culture for poorly educated societies and generations ignorant of their rights and duties.

However, they hailed modern technologies including the internet, saying they gave people a certain amount of freedom.

Arab governments blamed

Nidal Mansour, the head of the Center for Defending Journalists, accused Arab regimes of not complying with their constitutions.

He said: "If we look at the constitution of each Arab country, we would find the most beautiful phrases that hail and promote the freedom of speech. However, on the ground none of that is practiced. We have hundreds of Arab journalists killed, injured, jailed or humiliated in their countries every year."

While many speakers blamed Arab governments for making the suppression of freedom of speech a priority, several others suggested that the Arab public should also take part of the blame.

Ahmed al-Sheikh, a news director at Al Jazeera's Arabic channel, blamed Arab people for loosing their freedom of speech.

He said: "We know there are a lot of wrongdoings when it comes to the freedom of speech in the Arab world. But let us ask who was responsible for that?

"I think we have ended up where we are now, because we have forgotten how to get angry for our rights. We forgot how to be enthusiastic getting our voice heard. I am not saying Arab people should revolt against their governments, but they must learn how to show resentment in cases [where] their rights are confiscated."

Reviving heritage

Hasan al-Ajmi, a Sudanese journalist, argued that Arabs and Muslims should be the first to promote freedom of speech, because they knew it and practiced it centuries ago.

He said: "If Arabs and their governments look into history, there are many examples that freedom of speech did exist in our part of the world centuries ago.

"I recall the story of Umar bin al-Khattab, the second Muslim Caliph whose reign saw the Muslim army destroying two of the world's superpowers back then - the Sassanid and the Roman Empire.

"This man was speaking in public and a simple woman stood up suddenly and said, 'O Umar, you are wrong'. After hearing her reason for saying that, he said to the public, Umar was wrong and the woman was absolutely right. It is a wonderful example of freedom of speech from our own history, why cannot we revive that heritage?"

The participants at the Doha meeting ended the two-day workshop with recommendations to continue the fight for greater freedom of speech and political opinion. 

Source:
AlJazeera
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