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Arabic paper's ban for libel begins today

Al Emarat Al Youm, the Arabic daily newspaper, will be absent from newsstands today as it begins a 20-day publication ban.

Abu Dhabi // Al Emarat Al Youm, the Arabic daily newspaper, will be absent from newsstands today as it begins a 20-day publication ban. Last week, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld a ruling to temporarily suspend the newspaper's licence and fine its editor-in-chief and chief executive for libel and defamation in relation to a 2006 article which alleged that Abu Dhabi's Warsan Stables drugged its horses to boost performance during races.

The suspension would come into effect from today, the newspaper's owner, Arab Media Group (AMG), said yesterday. "The Arabic daily publication Emarat Al Youm has been temporary suspended for a period of 20 days from July 6 2009," AMG said. "Arab Media Group and Awraq Publishing are committed to the laws and regulations of UAE and will fully adhere to the court's decision with immediate effect." Awraq Publishing manages the newspaper.

In a hearing last Monday, Sami al Reyami, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, and Abdullatif al Sayegh, the chief executive of AMG, were also ordered to pay fines of Dh20,000 (US$5,400) each. Court proceedings began in January 2007, and the newspaper was given a year to prove that the story was true, according to Ammar al Khaja, the lawyer for the prosecution. The suspension was ordered last November but the newspaper appealed against the verdict at the country's highest court.

"This is the final judgement, there's no chance of an appeal," said Mr al Khaja. The decision to uphold the suspension has drawn criticism from national and international organisations. Mohammed Yousef, the head of the UAE Journalists Association, said the move was "disturbing", especially at a time when national media was "developing and flourishing". "We stress the suspension does not serve anyone but will be harmful for several sides, mostly the public - when we deprive them of their source of information," he said, calling the ruling "collective punishment".

"When the same thing happens in other sectors, would there be a similar punishment? If a doctor makes a mistake, will the hospital be shut down?" Mr Yousef said the ruling would also damage the UAE's reputation at a time when it was trying to encourage media organisations to invest in the country. @Email:lmorris@thenational.ae

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