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News company fined, equipment confiscated over coverage of anti-government protests

(ANHRI/IFEX) - The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) firmly denounces the 26 October 2008 sentence issued by the Court of Misdemeanors in Boulaq , Cairo, against Nader Gohar, director of the Cairo News Company (CNC). The sentence handed down excessive fines and ordered the confiscation of equipment belonging to a French television company which used to share the CNC's headquarters.

The court passed the sentence and a issued a fine of 50,000 Egyptian pounds (approx. US$8940) on the first count of "holding wireless telecommunication equipment and mobile satellite broadcasting units," and another fine of 100,000 Egyptian pounds (approx. US$17,900) for the second charge of "establishing and operating an unauthorized telecommunication network." It also ordered the confiscation of all the equipment seized by state security personnel during their search of the company's headquarters in April.

This prosecution is the result of a need to find a scapegoat to take responsibility for the publication of photographs showing citizens protesting in anger in the city of Al Mahala during a strike on 6 April. There were also photographs showing citizens tearing down posters of President Mubarak. The protest in Mahala was supported by a group of young people from a Facebook group, but it seems that the security forces did not find anyone to fabricate a case against, except for the CNC now with this sentencing.

Witness statements and expert testimony, plus documentary evidence produced by the public prosecutors themselves, prove the legality of the CNC's work. In addition, the confiscated material, the value of which runs into millions of Egyptian pounds, (hundreds of thousands of US$) is actually owned by an unconnected French television company.

In a statement released today, ANHRI said: "This sentence was another blow to freedom of the press and an attempt by the state security forces to assert control over all aspects of life in Egypt. The future looks dark for press and media freedom."

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