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Three journalists with opposition newspaper sentenced to prison over article on judiciary

(HRinfo/IFEX) - Three journalists of the opposition news paper "El-Wafd" have each been sentenced to two years in prison, following a lawsuit brought against them by a group of lawyers representing the ruling Democratic Party.

Anawar El-Hawary, director of "El-Wafd", the newspaper's deputy chief, Mahmoud Ghalab, and Ameer Salim, editor of the newspaper's political section, were all sentenced to two years in prison, a 200 L.E.(approx. US$35) fine and 2001 L.E. (approx. US$350) in temporary compensation. Their bail has been set at 5000 L.E. (approx. US$900).

The lawyers who filed the lawsuit based it on Article 102 of the criminal code, alleging that "El-Wafd" publicized false news in January 2007, damaging the reputation of the judiciary. Their allegation refers to a story about a meeting between the minister of justice and the legislative committee in the people's assembly, at which time the minister expressed his indignation about a number of judges. Although the story was covered by many newspapers, "El-Wafd" was singled out for reprisal.

"Article 102 of the criminal code, which can be interpreted broadly, has become a dagger in the heart of press freedom. The Egyptian government intends to keep it that way, to use it against outspoken journalists. The story in 'El-Wafd' was true; the minister of justice has issues with the independence of the judiciary system. The system might be good for something, but not for serving justice," said Gamal Eid, HRInfo's executive director.

This is the most recent and predictable verdict in a series of verdicts being issued against outspoken journalists who merely use their newspapers - whether independent or belonging to opposition parties - as platforms to voice their opposition to the government.

There is little novel about this case, held in the Warrak criminal court, except for the number of lawyers who filed the lawsuit: 11 from the ruling party, which has dominated the political scene since the mid-1970s. The case suggests that the ruling party may have a special legal team primed to go after independent and opposition journalists.

The judges who have issued recent verdicts against journalists have gone so far as to deliver a tribute to the ruling regime, and to applaud its dedication to press freedom. Pro-government judges and journalists seem to interpret the concept of "free expression" as a call for the throwing of "outspoken" journalists into jail, an interpretation which makes journalism a hazardous profession in Egypt for all those journalists who do not belong to pro-government newspapers or the Democratic Party.

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