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"El-Wafd" journalists fined; "El-Shaab" editor sentenced to one year in prison

(EOHR/IFEX) - On 28 June 2010, the North Giza Criminal Court fined two journalists from "El-Wafd" newspaper 240,000 EGP (approx. US$42,000) in a libel and defamation case filed against them by counsellors of the Council of State.

Yahya El Dakroroy, vice-president of the Council of State and chairman of the council's judges' club, and El-Hassan Mahmoud, member of the board of directors of the judges' club, filed a complaint against editor-in-chief Gamal Shawky and journalist Magdy Salama following the publication of an article in "El-Wafd" in November 2008.

In a separate development, on 15 June 2010, the North Cairo Court of Appeal sentenced editor Magdy Ahmed Hessein in absentia to one year in prison and a fine of 1,000 EGP (approx. US$175). The case refers back to 1996, when the family of former minister of the interior Hassan El Alfy launched a complaint against "El-Shaab" newspaper after the paper adopted a campaign against the former minister and his family. Hessein was fined 15,000 EGP (approx. US$2,600) but his lawyers challenged the verdict before the Court of Cassation. A lengthy process finally resulted in the June 2010 ruling by the Court of Appeal.

EOHR expressed deep concern over the fines imposed on the "El-Wafd" journalists and called on the government to reduce the amount, taking into consideration journalists' low wages. At the same time, EOHR noted that these sanctions are a type of restriction on freedom of opinion and expression, in contradiction of the Egyptian Constitution and international covenants on human rights, and a breach of Egypt's commitments to the UN Human Rights Council with respect to freedom of the press.

EOHR appeals to the government, the Syndicate of Journalists and all civil society organisations to work quickly to suspend prison sentences in freedom of expression cases and ensure that authorities are penalised for withholding information from journalists. EOHR also called for an end to discrimination in access to information, and the removal of any restrictions on the free flow of information, in particular as regards issues of national defence and security.
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