Monday, July 06, 2009

UAE: Dubai daily suspends publication over story

Published Date: July 07, 2009
DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates' most popular newspaper suspended publication yesterday for 20 days in compliance with a court ruling after being sued for a story alleging some of the Abu Dhabi ruling family's horses were doped. The suspension against the Arabic-language Al Emarat Al Youm was issued last week by the Abu Dhabi Federal Supreme Court, which is the highest court of the Emirates. The court also imposed fines of 20,000 dirhams ($5,445) on the paper's editor and chief executive.

According to official documents, the newspaper was suspended for "intentionally publishing inaccurate and untrue information" about horses owned by two sons of Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, a prominent member of Abu Dhabi's ruling family and the Emirates' former deputy prime minister. The newspaper in a 2006 article alleged that their horses at Warsan Stables were drugged to enhance performance. The stable owners sued the newspaper, editor Sami Al-Reyami and chief executive Abdullatif Al-Sayegh for libel and defamation.

A lower court ordered the suspension, but the newspaper appealed to the high court. Al-Reyami and Al-Sayegh could not immediately be reached for comment yesterday. The Dubai-based Arab Media Group (AMG), the newspaper's owner, said in a brief statement the group was "committed to the laws and regulations of the UAE and will fully adhere to the court's decision with immediate effect.

As has been declared by the Federal Court of Appeal (the highest federal court) the Arabic daily publication Emarat Al-Youm has been temporary suspended for a period of 20 days from 6 July 2009," said in a statement. The group is a division of Dubai Holding, run by the Dubai's ruling Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum. The 59-year-old sheikh owns several stables, hosts the world's most lucrative horse race in Dubai every year and rides endurance races.

Several newspapers in the Emirates reported the horse Mohammed rode in 120-km endurance races at Bahrain in January and Dubai in February failed doping tests. But local media typically avoid stories that could upset Emirati officials, rarely questioning rulers' decisions in print and on the air. The practice has recently been strengthened by the country's pending media law that includes a staggering fine of $1.35 million for "insulting" members of the ruling elite and up to $136,000 for "carrying misleading news that harms the national economy.

Human Rights Watch condemned the court's decision on July 1 to suspend the paper as a "serious attack" on press freedom. "Even if the article was not accurate, shutting down the newspaper for three weeks is totally disproportionate and a serious attack on press freedom," said the New York-based watchdog's Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson.

Racing is a massive sport in the UAE. The six million dollar Dubai World Cup is the world's richest horse race, while Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin Stables in England and the UAE are among the best known in the world. Abu Dhabi and Dubai are the two largest emirates in the seven member UAE. - Agencies

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