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Previously acquitted journalists now jailed in libel case

(ANHRI/IFEX) - 12 December 2011 - ANHRI completely rejects the ongoing detention of Fatima Al-Zahra and Sally Hassan, journalists from the newspaper Al-Fajr. Agouza Misdemeanor Court sentenced Al-Zahra and Hassan to two months and one month of imprisonment, respectively, on charges of libel, slander, and violation of private life brought forward by Yusuf Al-Badri.

Al-Badri had filed a complaint in 2009 against Fatima Al-Zahra, Sally Hassan, Mohamed Al-Baz, all journalists at Al-Fajr newspaper, and Adel Hammouda, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, accusing them of violating his privacy, libel, slander, and of publishing a document without his permission.

Al-Badri's complaint was based on article 309 of the Penal Code. The complaint stemmed from a news story published in issue 185, 1 December 2009, of Al Fajr entitled "Adventure in Maadi : A Ruqyah (Islamic incantation) in the house of Yusuf Al-Badri for 350 pounds."

At the time, Agouza Misdemeanor Court acquitted all the accused of the charge of violating the sanctity of personal life, yet sentenced Al-Zahra and Al-Baz to a fine of 5000 pounds for libel and slander. The court also sentenced a fine of 5000 pounds to be paid by Hammouda as punishment for his negligence in supervision.

Consequently, the Public Prosecution appealed the former sentence and the accused appealed the fine sentence they were given.

On 11 December 2011, Agouza Misdemeanor Court held a session in which it approved the appeal of the prosecution and recanted the acquittal of the two journalists. On the first charge, the court sentenced Al-Zahra to one month in prison, and one month in prison with labor for Hassan.

On the second charge, Al-Zahra was sentenced to one month in prison and three years suspension starting on 11 December 2011. The court approved the appeal of the defendants in form but not in content, and obliged them to pay the expenses.

"It is unfortunate that a journalist would be sentenced to imprisonment for doing his professional and media work. The imprisonment of journalists is unacceptable in a country that revolted for freedom," said ANHRI.

ANHRI reiterates its request for the abrogation of prison sentences in cases of freedom of expression and conscience, and demands legislative amendments to the articles that sentence journalists to prison in all cases of freedom of opinion and expression, publishing and printing. Moreover, the extortionate fines in criminal trials are still an intimidating threat to all journalists.

ANHRI's legal aid unit will immediately appeal this verdict, after considering its circumstances and causes.

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