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Newspaper editor given suspended six-month sentence for reporting on rumours regarding president's health

(HRinfo/IFEX) - On 26 March 2008, HRinfo denounced the judgment issued by Boulak Abu Al-Ela Court of Misdemeanor, which was held in New Cairo Courts Assemblage, against Ibrahim Issa, the editor-in-chief of "Al-Dostour" independent newspaper, in which he was fined 200 L.E. and given a suspended sentence of six months in prison. This was in regards to a lawsuit filed by a lawyer and two state security police officers with respect to the well-known case of "the president's health."

Many doubts have arisen regarding the grounds for the charges and the facts used to justify them since the investigation began on 5 September 2007. The General Prosecution investigated the allegations made by the accusing lawyer and officers submitting evidence against Issa, and itself made accusations against him, thus inappropriately mixing two roles, from the outset of the investigation. Then the case was transferred to the High State Security Court, in accordance with the emergency law, yet they refrained from implementing that decision, arguing that the case involved a misdemeanor of publishing false news prejudicial to the national economy. Although the Central Bank experts did not find any relation between what was published in "Al-Dostour" - as well as other newspapers - about the president's health and any positive or negative effects on the economy, Issa was convicted.

Although the suspended sentence can be appealed, it is still an indicator of the state of press freedom in Egypt, and the lack of respect for journalists' right to criticise the government's performance, as Issa has.

Gamal Eid, the executive director of HRinfo, states, "the conviction issued today is in fact a condemnation of the Egyptian government, which has revealed its real stance towards freedom of expression. The government is insistent on taking revenge on Issa and convicting him, while at the same time, it knows that imprisoning him for a fabricated crime is a big scandal, so that judgment was a compromise, which is considered a crude manipulation of justice."

HRinfo, as part of the defense teamwork for Issa, has decided to prepare the appeal of the sentence and for the other judgments against Issa that are soon expected, as well as other court sessions involving him next week.

HRinfo confirmed that the road to recovering the right to freedom of expression will be a long and difficult one for journalists and other free expression supporters, and will require unity among all active Egyptian organisations.

To read an extract of the questioning of Issa in court on the charges for his article on the rumours about the president's health, see: http://qadaya.net/node/24

Updates the Issa (Essa or Eissa) case: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/86919

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