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ANHRI condemns fines against "Sout elUmmah" journalists

(ANHRI/IFEX) - The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) reported that, on 25 December 2010, the misdemeanors appeals court fined Abdel Halim Kandil, former editor of the "Sout elUmmah" newspaper, EGP 10,000 (approx. US$1,700) and Ahmed Abulkheir, a journalist at the same paper, EGP 15,000 (approx. US$2,600). They were both convicted of insult and libel in relation to their coverage of filmmaker Akram elSobky's wedding party.

On 16 February, "Sout elUmmah" published a story about elSobky's wedding, in which Abulkheir slammed the filmmaker for carrying out certain wedding customs that are "eccentric to Egyptian tradition". ElSobky considered the story to be insulting and libelous and filed a complaint against the newspaper with the Dokki prosecutor's office. The case was then forwarded to the Dokki misdemeanours court. In October, the court sentenced both journalists to one year in prison and a fine of EGP 10,000 each. The prison sentence was issued even though the law had been amended to suspend the application of prison sentences in insult and libel cases. ANHRI's lawyers appealed the sentence against the editor and journalist and the appeals court issued the above-mentioned sentences.

ANHRI condemns the sentencing, which violate the rights of the journalists to write critical stories. In addition, ANHRI condemns the unexpected measures of the security forces after the sentences were issued, as they were prepared to detain the journalists until their fines have been paid. ANHRI's lawyers tried unsuccessfully to meet with a judge or prosecution official in order to request that the journalists be allowed to pay their fines in installments. Since the security forces were poised to arrest the journalists, the only way out was to pay the fines immediately. The CEO of the newspaper paid the fines and the journalists were allowed to leave the court building late at night.

ANHRI said, "These sentences are a blow to press freedom in Egypt, considering that the published report is considered within the acceptable limits of criticism. We hoped that the misdemeanours appeals court would acquit both journalists and endorse press freedom and the right to expression provided for all by virtue of laws and international treaties. The sentencing is very disappointing and is considered to signal a beginning to the prosecution of journalists for their opinions, which is an unacceptable control on their right to criticise."

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