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Editor of independent newspaper to be tried for reporting rumours about president's health

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the charges that state security prosecutors brought against "Al-Dustour" editor Ibrahim Issa on 5 September 2007 for publishing articles referring to rumours about President Hosni Mubarak's health. Issa was accused of "spreading false reports likely to disturb public security and besmirch the country's reputation."

"This case is just a pretext for settling scores with an independent daily whose editor is very critical of the government," the press freedom organisation said. "Issa was not the first to report the rumours about the president's health, but he was the only one to get a summons. We are all the more concerned as the case should be tried by the court for the press and publications, and not by the state security court."

Issa, who was summoned and questioned for nearly seven hours on 5 September by the office of the state security prosecutor, faces up to four years in prison under articles 102 and 188 of the criminal code.

Many newspapers had referred to the rumours during the previous two weeks. In an attempt to put a stop to the speculation, the pro-government newspaper "Al Ahram" published an interview with the president last week in which he implicitly accused the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned Islamist movement, of being behind the rumours. The same newspaper recently carried an article accusing "Al-Dustour" of being linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Speaking on television this week, President Mubarak's wife said he was in good health and that the newspapers spreading these rumours deserved to be punished. Issa has defended his articles, saying the president's health should not be a state secret.

The government-controlled Supreme Council for the Press announced on 3 September that it had created two commissions formed of media experts and legal consultants to evaluate the scale of the rumours and decide what measures to take.

Issa and one of his journalists, Sahar Zaki, were sentenced on 29 June 2006 to a year in prison and a fine of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (1,450 euros) on charges of libelling the president. The Al-Warraq appeal court subsequently quashed the prison sentence and doubled the fine.

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