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Website editor sentenced to six months in prison

(EOHR/IFEX) - On 28 July 2010, an El Saf court sentenced Sherif Abd El Hamid, the editor-in-chief of the El Saf website, in absentia to six months' imprisonment and a fine of 200 Egyptian pounds (approx. US$35).

The public prosecutor summoned Abd El Hamid on 27 June in response to a complaint submitted by the member of parliament for El Saf to the Information and Documentation Department of the Ministry of the Interior, accusing the editor of libel and defamation. The prosecutor charged Abd El Hamid based on statements posted on his website in May and June 2010 that were critical of the member of parliament, suggesting he was one of the reasons for the poor living conditions and service standards in the El Saf area of the Helwan governorate.

Initially, the public prosecutor decided to release Abd El Hamid on bail in the amount of 1000 Egyptian pounds (approx. US$175). The editor, however, refused to pay the bail, saying that his actions were within the scope of freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 47 of the Constitution and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. A decision was made to hold Abd El Hamid in custody for four days, after which the editor began a hunger strike inside the El Saf police station. The prosecutor then decided to allow him to return to his residence.

On 7 July, the case was sent back to the prosecutor's office. Abd El Hamid was surprised when the judge sentenced him during the first hearing in his trial on 28 July.

Abd El Hamid complained to EOHR that he was not informed of the proceedings against him. The ruling was issued after Abd El Hamid filed a complaint with the attorney general against the director of the El Saf public prosecutor's office regarding the manner in which the investigation against him was carried out, including the fact that his lawyer was not allowed to see the case file. No decision has been issued on the complaint filed by Abd El Hamid.

EOHR is deeply concerned over the continuing use of imprisonment as a sanction in defamation cases and sees the case of Sherif Abd El Hamid as typical of the way in which freedom of opinion and expression are restricted in Egypt, in violation of the Constitution and international covenants on human rights. The organisation also sees these actions as a violation of the pledge to respect freedom of the press that Egypt made before the UN Human Rights Council.

EOHR appeals to the government, the journalists' association and society in general to work together to abolish the use of imprisonment as a sanction in press crimes, in accordance with international human rights covenants.

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