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Journalist and editor sentenced to one year in prison on libel charge

(ANHRI/IFEX) - 26 October 2010 - The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) has condemned the sentencing by the Dokki Misdemeanours Court of Abdelhalim Qandil, the former editor of the "Sout el-Ummah" newspaper, and journalist Ahmed Abulkheir. Both were sentenced to one year in prison, a fine of EGP 10,000 (approx. US$1725) and bail of EGP 500 (approx. US$85) in an insult and libel case filed by a film director in relation to their reporting on his wedding party.

Akram Farid el-Sobky filed a complaint with the Dokki Prosecutor's Office against "Sout al-Ummah", accusing both journalists of insult and libel in relation to the publication of a report on his 16 February 2009 wedding party. The report was critical of an aspect of the party, describing it as "eccentric to Egyptian traditions".

The prosecutor's office forwarded the case against both journalists to the criminal court on charges of having insulted Akram el-Sobky.

From a legal standpoint, the sentence against the journalists is flawed and contrary to the accusation provisions on which the prosecutor depended when pressing charges and to which the court later referred. Article #303 of the Egyptian penal code, on the basis of which both journalists were tried, limits the penalty for insult and libel to an EGP 5,000-15,000 (approx. US$875-US$2300) fine, and imprisonment is allowed only in certain cases involving insult of a public officer. The sentence against the journalists is a violation of the law and, as such, is flawed and completely invalid.

ANHRI said, "The Dokki Misdemeanours Court not only took away the right to criticise by convicting the journalists for reporting on an event that was aired via various media and the Internet, but it also issued an absolutely invalid sentence against two journalists who should not be convicted in the first place. ANHRI's legal aid lawyers are appealing the sentence and requesting a complete acquittal."

ANHRI added, "The frequency of prison sentences in publishing cases is a very serious trend that threatens the future of freedom of expression and press freedom in Egypt. It is unacceptable to have the threat of imprisonment acting as a Damocles sword over the heads of journalists. The misapplication of the law by the courts makes us insist on the necessity of amending all articles pertaining to publishing crimes, such that the possibility of imprisonment is completely cancelled out."

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