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EDITOR ACCUSED OF SPREADING RUMOURS ON PRESIDENT'S HEALTH

An Egyptian editor who reported rumours that President Hosni Mubarak's health is deteriorating faces up to four years in jail, report the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo), Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

After nearly seven hours of questioning the day before, state security prosecutors on 6 September charged "Al-Dustur" editor Ibrahim Issa for "misleading public opinion and publishing false news with malicious intent" for his recent articles that speculated on President Mubarak's failing health.

Issa was released without bail pending trial, which has not yet been set. He faces up to four years in prison under articles 102 and 188 of the Criminal Code. Issa has defended his point of view, arguing that the President's health should not be a state secret.

"Some journalists and government officials used the reports on these rumours as a pretext to target 'Al-Dustur' and Issa," HRinfo says. "It is disconcerting that Issa is scheduled to appear before the state security deputy rather than before the deputy of publications, the authority with the sole jurisprudence to investigate complaints and claims against journalists."

Recently, there has been speculation in the Egyptian media about the President's health: a possible hospital stay, travel abroad for medical treatment, and even his death. CPJ says that many journalists blame the absence of official information on the matter. Many papers have covered the issue but "Al-Dustur", an independent daily, is the only publication that has been prosecuted so far.

In an attempt to silence the rumours, the pro-government daily "Al Ahram" recently published an interview with President Mubarak in which he accused the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned Islamist movement, of being behind the rumours. The same newspaper recently ran a report accusing "Al-Dustur" of being linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.

In a related development last week, the government-dominated Supreme Press Council, which issues licenses and guidelines to newspapers, said it had created two commissions formed of media and legal experts to evaluate press coverage of the President's health and to "decide what legal measures should be taken," the council said in a statement.

Issa and his newspaper have frequently been targeted by Egyptian courts for their independent news coverage. In January, 24 IFEX members and partners signed a joint action calling on President Mubarak to end jail sentences for journalists including Issa, who was facing one year in prison.

According to CPJ, Issa and three other editors are due to appear in court in Cairo on 13 September on charges of insulting President Mubarak and his top aides, including his son Gamal, whose rising influence within the ruling National Democratic Party spurred speculation that he might be the country's next president.

EOHR said in its 2006 annual report released last week that attacks on freedom of expression and the press and the prosecution of journalists for "expressing their opinions" were on the rise.

Visit these links:
- HRinfo: http://www.ifex.org/es/content/view/full/86037/
- HRinfo publishes state security investigation into Issa (Arabic): http://www.hrinfo.net/en/reports/2007/pr0910.shtml
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/2jco3z
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=23583
- EOHR report: http://www.eohr.org/press/2007/pr0902.shtml
- IFEX joint action on Issa: http://tinyurl.com/ypb6or
(11 September 2007)

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