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IFJ condemns criminal charges against editor and journalist

(IFJ/IFEX) - 18 June 2010 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today said the forthcoming trial in Egypt of Wael El-Ebrashi, editor-in-chief of "Sawt El-Umma" newspaper, and its reporter Samar Al-Dawy raises concerns over the role of media in issues of public interest. The journalists face charges of 'inciting the public against a new property tax law' in the country after the paper launched a campaign to oppose the legislation.

"It is right and proper for media to voice people's concerns, especially in matters of public interest," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "Journalists have the right to speak out - even when it appears to be challenging the law - and to make it clear to policymakers when they are going against the public interest."

According to media reports, El-Ebrashi will appear before a criminal court in Cairo on 18 July at the opening of his trial, after prosecutors accused him of running a campaign in his newspaper calling for the boycott of the controversial new tax law. Journalist Smar Al-Dawy was also charged with the same accusations.

The authorities were quoted in 2009 as saying that the new tax would be applied on residential and commercial properties as of 2010.

The Arabic "Sawt El-Umma" launched a campaign in January 2010 to oppose the bill which was being debated in Parliament, out of concern that it would hit hard property owners with modest incomes, who risk losing their homes. The bill, which has since been passed into law, has been widely criticised by lawyers and opposition politicians alike. The IFJ says the newspaper's campaign represents the strength of feeling toward the new law among ordinary people and the authorities should address their concerns through dialogue and open debate.

"The Government must win public support for its new legislation through the power of argument and persuasion, not the prosecution of dissenting voices," added White. "Media offers a forum for such a debate. We urge the authorities to drop charges against the two journalists."

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