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Military court sentences blogger to six months in prison

(RSF/IFEX) - 1 December 2010 - Reporters Without Borders condemns the six-month jail sentence that a military court imposed on blogger Ahmed Hassan Basiouny on 29 November on charges of disseminating defence secrets online and "disclosing information relating to the Egyptian armed forces."

Basiouny was arrested for creating a Facebook page in 2009 that provided advice and information for young people thinking of enlisting in the Egyptian army.

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The authorities meanwhile deployed an entire arsenal of measures and practices designed to silence dissent and reinforce their control over the media before the first round of the parliamentary elections held on 28 November, despite the government's declared intention to organize a free and transparent election.

Harassment and intimidation of journalists

Mostafa Bahgat, a reporter for the daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, was arrested while covering a demonstration in the Giza district of Imbaba (southwest of the centre of Cairo) on 27 November, the eve of the election, and was held for several hours at Giza police headquarters. It would seem the authorities have not forgotten the video he filmed of police violence against opposition activists and journalists after the 2005 parliamentary elections. Fourteen people died in those clashes.

Youssef Shaaban, the Alexandria correspondent of the online newspaper Al-Badil who was arrested on 20 November, was finally released on 29 November, too late for him to cover the first round. The office of the assistant prosecutor issued an order for his immediate release on 26 November but the police waited 48 hours before executing it.

A journalist who defends human rights and is often critical of local and national politicians, Shaaban had been placed under a 15-day detention order by the prosecutor general four days after his arrest while covering a demonstration.

As Reporters Without Borders already reported, Ashraf Khalil, a reporter for Al-Masry Al-Youm's English-language edition, was intercepted by police on 22 November after interviewing Mohammed Beltagui, a Muslim Brotherhood candidate who campaigned for re-election as a parliamentary representative of Shubra Al-Kheima, a district to the north of Cairo. He and a woman journalist were stopped and questioned as they left the district in a taxi.

Court says measures to control SMS messaging illegal

There has been a legal challenge to the measures introduced by the communication ministry on 11 October with the aim of controlling SMS messaging. Under the new measures, companies that send large amounts of SMS messages to mobile phones are now supposed to obtain a licence from the Telecommunications Regulation Authority. Other SMS content suppliers including political parties and news services must do the same. The licences can cost up to 88,000 dollars (65,670 euros).

An administrative court issued a ruling quashing these measures shortly before the first round of the elections. However, court orders overturning government measures are not usually implemented in Egypt. With just days to go to the second round on 5 December, the communication ministry announced that it wanted to obtain a copy of the court ruling before making any changes to the conditions for obtaining a licence. As a result, the measures introduced in October are still in effect.

Online media facing censorship

The government's repressive policies have also had an impact on the Internet. Reporters Without Borders regrets that the trial of the two presumed killers of Khaled Said, an online activist who was beaten to death outside an Internet café in June, has been postponed until 25 December.

It turns out that the two alleged killers are "informers" and are on the police's payroll. So far they have been charged not with murder but with making an unjustified arrest and use of excessive violence.

A Khaled Said support page on Facebook called "We are all Khaled Said," which has 330,000 members, and a Facebook page supporting opposition candidate Mohamed ElBaradei suddenly disappeared on 26 November. They were finally reinstated after complaints from users. Facebook attributed their removal to security system software.

Egypt was added to the Reporters Without Borders list of "Enemies of the Internet" above all because of the way it harasses and prosecutes bloggers. The press freedom organization urges the authorities to use blogger Kareem Amer's recent release to restart its relations with the country's blogosphere.

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