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Thirty-five IFEX members and other organisations appeal for charges to be dropped against prominent human rights activists and blogger

(EOHR/IFEX) - We, the undersigned organisations, express our deep concern about the possibility of prison sentences being handed down on 4 September 2010 to prominent Egyptian human rights activists Gamal Eid, director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Ahmad Saif al-Islam, founder of Hisham Mubarak Law Centre (HMLC), as well as blogger Amr Gharbeia. These men have been charged with criminal defamation, use of threats and misuse of communications tools.

The charges were originally laid in February 2007 as a result of allegations made against the activists by Judge Abdel Fatah Murad who claimed that Eid and Saif tried to extort money from him. Amr Gharbeia was charged with defaming the judge on his blog.

Days before Judge Murad launched his complaint, ANHRI and HMLC published a statement alleging that the judge had plagiarised part of ANHRI's report "Implacable Adversaries: Arab Governments and the Internet," which he included in his own book, "The Scientific and Legal Principles of Blogs" without reference to the source. Gharbeia posted a review of the judge's book on his blog that was critical of his anti-freedom of expression standpoint.

The case was inactive until April 2010 when the Public Prosecutor's Office introduced the charge of defamation (under the penal code) against all three men, and maintained the charge of public slander. At this time, an additional charge of "misuse of communications tools" under article 76 of the 2003 Communications Law was also applied. The latter charge and the defamation charge each carry a penalty of up to two years in prison.

Civil society organisations in Egypt are interpreting these actions as part of a larger campaign waged against dissent in the country. In March 2010, 68 Egyptian NGOs expressed their concern about a repressive law the government is reportedly drafting to restrict freedom of expression and association. This would be in clear violation of commitments made by the Egyptian government to the UN Human Rights Council in February 2010.

We are urging the Egyptian government to stop practices designed to silence civil society activists and human rights defenders, and to provide the legal protection necessary to allow them to carry out their activities without interference. These efforts would be in conformity with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders of 1998, which provides that "Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels."

We, the undersigned organisations:

- Call on the Egyptian authorities to withdraw the charges against Gamal Eid, Ahmad Saif al-Islam and Amr Gharbeia immediately as they are in violation of the Egyptian constitution and international covenants on human rights, which guarantee the right to freedom of opinion and expression without fear of criminal charges;
- Declare our full solidarity with the three activists being tried before the court;
- Demand the Egyptian government integrate the principle of the protection of human rights activists in national legislation, and put an end to laws that restrict the activities of NGOs;
- Call on all local, regional and international organisations to stand in solidarity with the three activists by sending protest letters to the embassies of their governments in Egypt as well as the Egyptian Embassy in their own countries.
Link to foreign embassies in Egypt:
http://www.mfa.gov.eg/MFA_Portal/en-GB/Missions/Foreign_Missions_in_Egypt/
Link to Egyptian embassies abroad:
http://www.mfa.gov.eg/MFA_Portal/en-GB/Missions/Egyptian_Missions_Abroad/


Signed,

Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Arab Archives Institute
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
ARTICLE 19
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Center for Media Studies & Peace Building
Committee to Protect Journalists
Ethiopian Freepress Journalists' Association
Freedom Forum
Freedom House
Free Media Movement
Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda
Human Rights Watch
Index on Censorship
Institute of Mass Information
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela
International Federation of Journalists
International Press Institute
Maharat Foundation
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Rights Agenda
Norwegian PEN
Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de création
Pakistan Press Foundation
PEN International
Public Association "Journalists"
Reporters Without Borders
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters - AMARC
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Press Freedom Committee

Non-IFEX signatories:

Arab Center for the Independence of Judiciary and Legal Profession
Arab Penal Reform Organization
Arab Program for Human Rights Activists
El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence
Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement
Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
Euromediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN)
Hisham Mubarak Law Center
Human Rights Association for Assistance of Prisoners
Human Rights Organizations Forum
Land Center for Human Rights
Sawasia Center for Combating Discrimination

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