Lampooning Arab Leaders

Occasional CJR contributor Justin Martin has a good piece today at GlobalPost calling for Arab nations to relax their laws restricting harsh press critiques of those countries’ leaders. Here’s Martin:

A blogger from Alexandria is serving a four-year prison sentence for insulting Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and the Islamic faith. In October, a Moroccan cartoonist and his publisher were given three-year suspended prison sentences and ordered to pay more than $360,000 for “failing to accord due respect to a member of the royal family,” after publishing a cartoon satirizing the king’s cousin. Even in Lebanon, roundly considered the most progressive Arab country, a journalist was fined more than $30,000 in the country’s publications court in 2007 for ridiculing the Lebanese president.

It doesn’t have to be this way, says Martin:

Unlike entrenched laws in Arab countries demanding government licensure for journalists or constitutional provisions criminalizing criticism of Islam, laws declaring Arab leaders unassailable could be made meaningless tomorrow morning if the autocrats in question emerged from their satin sheets and reached for the phone.

The whole thing is worth a read.

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Justin Peters is editor-at-large of the Columbia Journalism Review.