Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Tuesday urged Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani [official website], the ruler of Qatar [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], not to approve a proposed media law [press release] which allegedly has the purpose of censoring rather than promoting media freedom. The new law would abolish criminal penalties for media law violations but penalize any type of criticism against the country or neighboring governments with a fine of up to 1 million Qatari Riyals (USD $275,000). HRW alleges that the country's penal code, which penalizes anyone criticizing the emir with prison sentence, and the new draft law violate the international freedom of speech standard allowing criticism against governments. Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at HRW, also noted that the new draft law with its broad provisions does not meet the level of international standard contrary to the country's announced commitment to freedom of expression. The draft law was approved by Shura Council, Qatar's legislation, in June.
Protection of free expression remains a key concern for international human rights advocates. In July the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) [advocacy website] stated that press freedom in the Maldives [JURIST report] has been deteriorating since the resignation of former president Mohamed Nasheed. The group noted that journalists in the Maldives have been subject to police brutality and attacks by political extremists. During the same month HRW urged the government of Sri Lanka to end arrests and office raids of journalists [JURIST report] who publish content critical of the government. In June two reports were presented to the UN Human Rights Council [official website] urging greater protection for the right to life of journalists [JURIST report] and media freedom. The CPJ in February released its annual Attacks on the Press report [JURIST report], expressing concern about increased censorship of journalists worldwide in 2011. The CPJ criticized the growing trend of government censorship, especially Internet censorship. In May of last year, journalism rights group Reporters without Borders (RSF) [advocacy website] released [JURIST report] its annual list of predators of press freedom, which included the heads of state of several countries in the Middle East and North Africa. In April 2011, the US Department of State (DOS) [official website] released its 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices [JURIST report], listing many of the same offenders of free press as the RSF report.