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Defamation case against prominent journalist referred to criminal court

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA 6 September, 2010 - A defamation case brought against renowned Egyptian journalist Hamdi Kandil earlier this year was referred to the criminal court by the public prosecutor yesterday, according to agency news reports.

On 18 May, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit filed charges of "insulting and libelling a public servant or citizen performing their work" against Kandil, for which the commentator could face a fine or up to six months in prison, reports said.

Kandil is a veteran journalist known for his critical reporting on both Arab television networks and in print. He is also known for his political activism, and is currently the spokesperson for the Egyptian National Association for Change, a reformist group founded by Mohammed ElBaradei, the former head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) who has announced his candidacy for president in Egypt's much-debated September 2011 elections.

The defamation charge refers to a column by Kandil published in the newspaper "Al Shouruk" on 3 May, in which Kandil says that "words usually drop from his (Aboul Gheit's) mouth like garbage from a perforated rubbish bag" [English translation from Xinhua news agency].

Kandil reportedly told prosecutors that he did not intend to insult the minister.

"We are deeply concerned that this case will go before a criminal court, and hope that the judge will acquit Hamdi Kandil of this crime," said IPI Press Freedom Manager Anthony Mills. "Journalists should not have to operate in the shadow of criminal defamation laws, especially those explicitly protecting public servants, whose activities fall within the public interest. Particularly in a pre-election period it is crucial that Egyptians have free access to a diversity of opinions and news."

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