Al-Hayat’s Syrian bureau chief resigns, blames own paper for ban in Syria

The Syrian bureau director for Al-Hayat, Ibrahim Hamidi, resigned from his post this week and attacked his own newspaper after it was banned for publishing defamatory information about Syria.
al hayat

DAMASCUS, October 9, 2008 (MENASSAT) – Eleven days after the Syrian government banned the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat, its Damascus bureau chief, Ibrahim Hamidi, has resigned from his post, saying that it was Al-Hayat's policies, not the Syrian government censors, that caused the paper to be banned in Syria.

An unnamed source close to the government told the Syrianews website, "Hamidi sent us a letter saying he won't be dealing with this paper anymore", something Hamidi confirmed to MENASSAT.

The Syrian Press & Publications Law states that all printed publications in Syria are subject to censorship, and distributors of foreign publications have to submit advance copies to the Ministry of Information before they are allowed on the market.

Indeed, the Minister of Information has the right to ban entry or circulation of such publications if they "undermine national sovereignty or unsettle security or public ethics."

The director of the Al-Hayat bureau in Beirut, Zuheir Quseibati, told AFP that Al-Hayat undergoes constant censorship in Syria and at times the paper is banned, sometimes for more than a month. 

Tense relations with Saudi Arabia

Hamidi said, "The ban of the newspaper came because Al-Hayat's stories targeted Syria in order to tarnish its image. The Ministry of Information informed me that the ban was not targeted against me or the bureau but against the information the paper has been publishing from bureaus outside Syria."

Relations between Syria and Saudi Arabia—which funds al-Hayat—have been tense since the assassination of the former Lebanese prisoner and billionaire businessman, Rafiq al-Hariri, in February 2005.

The Syrian media has strongly criticized Saudi Arabia over the last few days, particularly after it refrained from condemning the October 5 bus bombing in Damascus that left 17 people dead.

According to Hamidi, who is a Syrian national, it was reports from Al-Hayat's bureaus in Beirut and Riyadh that bothered the Syrian authorities.

Hamidi said in a public statement, "I am no longer associated with the Al-Hayat, and I have informed them of my resignation, verbally and written."

He pointed to the fact that his decision came before the ministry's decision to ban the newspaper."

"My resignation was due to the campaign waged by Al-Hayat against Syria," the statement said. "I will not take part in any campaign against my country. I will not be part of it".

Hamidi added that he was confortable with his decision and was looking forward to "starting my career all over again."

Hamidi was jailed for one year in early 2003 for publishing reports about Syrian preparations to receive Iraqi refugees at the border area in case the United States invaded Iraq.

Hamidi's reports from Damascus were viewed as an indicator of official Syrian planning, since he enjoyed good relations with the regime. Hamidi has been working as head of the Damascus bureau of Al-Hayat for 18 years.    

(Sources include AFP.)