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COURT STRIKES DOWN JAIL TIME, UPHOLDS FINES AGAINST EDITORS

Four Egyptian newspaper editors convicted of publishing material that criticised President Hosni Mubarak and his top aides have had their one-year jail sentences overturned by a Cairo appeals court, report the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

On 31 January, a Cairo appeals court overturned a one-year jail term given in September 2007 to four editors - Ibrahim Issa of the daily "Al Dustour", Adel Hamouda of the weekly "Al Fajr", Wael al-Abrashi of "Sawt Al Umma", and Abdel Halim Kandil, former editor of the weekly "Al Karama" - for "publishing false information likely to disturb public order." But the court upheld a 20,000 Egyptian Pound (US$3,500) fine against each of them.

"We are relieved that the prison terms have finally been struck down," said CPJ. "But we condemn the practice of using the judiciary to criminalise critical journalism and spread fear and self-censorship. We call on Egypt's highest judicial authorities to overturn this politically motivated verdict."

ANHRI said that "the amendment remains far too strict and aims to silence the independent press in Egypt."

Egyptian lawyers and reporters have repeatedly said that the conviction was politically motivated and leaves critical journalists more open to judicial harassment and punishment. Essam Eissa, lawyer for "Al Dustour" and "Sawt Al Umma", said, "We have gotten used to seeing Egyptian courts overthrow jail terms while upholding fines in similar cases." He said they are planning to challenge the ruling in criminal court and then in the Court of Cassation, Egypt's equivalent of the U.S.'s Supreme Court.

Kandil told CPJ that nearly 90 cases for defamation have been filed against him over the past five years, including some by politicians close to the President.

Like Kandil, Ibrahim Issa is among the most judicially harassed journalists in the country. In September, an appeals court sentenced him to six months in prison for spreading "false news" about President Mubarak's health. He was granted a Presidential pardon in October.

The legal action came after the editors published articles denouncing President Mubarak for verbally attacking the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. They also criticised several high-level officials and the President's son, Gamal Mubarak, who is believed to be the 80-year-old President's heir apparent, says CPJ.

Visit these links:
- ANHRI: http://anhri.net/ifex/alerts/egypt/2008/0703.shtml
- CPJ: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/100521/
(4 February 2009)

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