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Egypt: Newspaper editor’s prosecution part of a “pattern of harassment” of Egyptian media

The Egyptian authorities must drop the charges against Ibrahim Eissa, editor of the Al-Dustour daily newspaper, who was given a six-month sentence yesterday for writing an article about the health of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Amnesty International said.

Ibrahim Eissa was charged under Articles 171 and 188 of the Penal Code for publishing in 2007 information considered by the authorities to be damaging to the public interest and Egypt’s national stability. This was a report suggesting that the health of 79-year-old President Mubarak was deteriorating. The authorities contended that the article caused foreign investors to withdraw investments worth some 350 million US dollars damaging the economy. Eissa can appeal yesterday's court decision.

"This prosecution forms part of a wider pattern of the Egyptian authorities using criminal defamation and other charges to chill media expression and reporting on issues considered by the authorities as red lines, but which are, in reality, issues of clear public interest," said Amnesty International. "It underlines the need for the government to amend the controversial press law and all other provisions in the Penal Code that criminalise legitimate reporting.”

The press law adopted by the National Assembly in July 2006 added to existing restrictions on freedom of expression and journalists and others continue to be at risk of imprisonment if they commit publishing offences, such as insulting public officials. When the new law was introduced, independent and opposition newspapers withheld publication for a day in protest and hundreds of media workers protested outside the parliament building.

"We hope that the Court of Appeals, when it considers the case, will overturn this verdict and uphold the right to media freedom,” said Amnesty International. “The authorities should cease using criminal defamation charges to harass journalists and prevent their reporting on matters of legitimate public interest.”

On 31 March, Ibrahim Eissa will also stand trial in a separate case on charges of spreading false information about President Mubarak’s health. In 2007, he was one of four newspaper editors who were sentenced under Article 188 of the Egyptian Penal Code, which stipulates that anyone who “malevolently publishes false news, statements or rumours that is likely to disturb public order", should be imprisoned for up to one year prison and pay a fine of 20,000 Egyptian Pounds. All four have remained at
liberty pending the outcome of their appeal, the next session of which is scheduled for 5 April.

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