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Journalist and blogger fined and sentenced to six months in jail

(ANHRI/IFEX) - On 2 September 2010, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) said that it will ask renowned journalist Magdi Al Gallad, editor of the independent newspaper "Al Masry Al Youm", to drop his complaint against journalist and blogger Ashraf Shehata. On 31 August, Shehata was convicted of libel and insult and sentenced by an economic court to six months in prison, a fine of EGP 5,000 (approx. US$870) and bail of EGP 2,000 (approx. US$350). Al Gallad had filed a complaint against not only Shehata, who previously worked as a journalist for "Al Masry Al Youm", but also against Gomaa Mansour, who owns the landline and is the internet service subscriber at an internet café, and Ali Adel Fadl, the owner of the internet café used by Shehata.

Mansour and Fadl were each fined EGP 50,000 (approx. US$8,700) on charges of "creating a communications network and offering communications services without a permit". The court ordered the three defendants to pay a preliminary fine of EGP 5001.

ANHRI said that it had hoped that Al Gallad would not sue another journalist because of his blog posts. Al Gallad should have been the first to defend press freedom, and disputes between journalists over publications should be resolved by the union or should be taken to the civil judiciary. A journalist who resorts to filing a claim against another journalist in a criminal court provides justification to the many enemies of press freedom in Egypt.

This is the first case in which internet café owners have been convicted in Egypt. The court ruled that Shehata was capable of insult and libel only because he visited the internet café and used its facilities. The owners of the café, however, bear no responsibility for how their customers use the telephone and internet service.

ANHRI said it will appeal the verdict against Shehata and the internet café owners and expressed hope that Al Gallad would respond to its call by dropping the case and accepting a more suitable settlement to the dispute, in support of freedom of the press and asserting a refusal to resort to the criminal courts in publication cases.

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