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IFEX member the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo) is again facing harassment through the courts for defending the right to free expression in Egypt and its tireless promoters.

Sheikh Yousef El Badry has accused HRinfo of defending a renowned poet as well as a secularist blogger, and thus "insulting Islam and President Mubarak," as well as the Sheikh himself. He is seeking 1 million Egyptian Pounds (US$177,500) in damages.

HRinfo openly backed poet Abdel Moati Hegazy's refusal in August to pay a court fine of US$3,500 following his conviction for insulting El Badry as "someone who opposes freedom of thought and expression." The group has been campaigning for the release of Kameer Amer, the young blogger who was sentenced to four years in prison earlier this year for criticising Islam and the Egyptian President.

HRinfo's executive director, Gamal Eid, vowed to continue supporting Hegazy, Amer and the independent press in Egypt. "We will not cower in front of these witch-hunting campaigns," he said.

HRinfo says the case against them is part of a "repressive series to persecute advocates of freedom of expression in Egypt," which also includes the one-year jail sentence imposed last week on four editors for criticising the country's top officials.

The sentences also reflect the urgent need for a revision of the country's controversial press law, say HRinfo, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and Amnesty International.

Editors Ibrahim Issa of "Al-Dustur", Wael al-Abrashi of the weekly "Sawt al-Umma" and Adel Hammouda of the weekly "Al-Fajr", and Abdel Halim Qandil, former editor of the weekly "Al-Maramaeach", were found guilty of "publishing false information likely to disturb public order" for their articles that criticised President Hosni Mubarak, his son (the party's deputy secretary-general who is touted to be the President's heir apparent) and other high-ranking officials.

Each editor was sentenced to one year in jail on 13 September and fined 20,000 Egyptian Pounds (US$3,500), in addition to paying 10,000 pounds (1278 euros) for conditional release during their appeals. Their conviction was the result of lawsuits brought last year by the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

"This verdict appears to signal that the Egyptian government is engaged in a dangerous crackdown on freedom of the press," says IFJ. "Besides the clear political motivation for the case, the sentences themselves are punitive and inappropriate for media offences."

IFJ's affiliate in Egypt, the Egyptian Journalists' Syndicate (ES), described the sentences as a "declaration of war on press freedom" and demanded that the government abolish the press laws that "aim to frighten and intimidate journalists."

According to RSF, a controversial press law adopted last year defines no fewer than 35 press offences that are punishable by imprisonment. Independent and opposition newspapers withheld publication for a day to protest the new law and hundreds of media workers demonstrated outside the National Assembly.

Meanwhile, Issa will appear in a state security court on 1 October in a separate case, for publishing rumours regarding President Mubarak's allegedly deteriorating health.

Visit these links:
- HRinfo:
- CPJ:
- IFJ:
- RSF:
- Amnesty:
(18 September 2007)

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