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Two journalists given prison sentences in Egypt

This statement was originally published on cpj.org on 2 June 2015.

The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the convictions and sentencing of two journalists in separate cases in Egypt over the weekend.

"Egyptian authorities keep finding new ways to intimidate journalists and worsen the climate for the media," said Sherif Mansour, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "We call on Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's government to end this legal harassment and instead work to reform the laws that are abused to send journalists to jail."

On Sunday, an appellate court in the city of Alexandria confirmed the February conviction of an editor and sentenced him to 15 months in prison, according to news reports. Youssef Shaaban, editor of the independent news website Al-Bedaiah, was convicted along with nine activists on charges of assaulting police officers and attempting to storm a police station, the reports said. The journalist has been in custody since he appeared for the appeal hearing on May 11, 2015, according to Khaled al-Balshy, editor-in-chief of Al-Bedaiah and a board member of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate.

In February, after a five-month-long trial, Shaaban was convicted of the charges and sentenced to two years in prison. He and the other defendants were released on bail pending appeal, according to news reports. They denied that they assaulted a police officer and said the police officer assaulted them, according to news reports.

The charges stemmed from a March 29, 2013, protest at an Alexandria police station against the alleged police assault of a lawyer, according to Al-Bedaiah. The lawyer was representing defendants who were accused of burning the local headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to news reports. Shaaban was briefly detained at the police station while covering the protest, along with other individuals, according to al-Balshy and news reports.

Al-Balshy told CPJ that Shaaban would appeal at the Court of Cassation, which would be his last legal resort. The editor said he, his outlet, and the syndicate would ask the prosecutor general to release Shaaban until that court heard his case. Al-Balshy told CPJ that Shaaban has Hepatitis C and requires medical attention.

In a separate case, a court in Cairo on Saturday [May 30] sentenced in absentia Islam Behery, host at the privately owned Alkahera Walnas TV station, to five years on charges of blasphemy in relation to his daily show on religious issues, "With Islam Behery," according to news reports. The TV host told journalists that he was in Egypt, but that he didn't receive any information about the case and was not given a chance to defend himself. No arrest warrant has been issued for the journalist. In a TV interview after the sentence, Behery said he would appeal the verdict.

On the show, Behery questioned the credibility of the sources for the Hadith, the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, and tackled issues such as punishment for apostasy and a debate on early marriage of young girls, according to news reports.

At least 48 other cases are still pending against Behery, including one filed by Al-Azhar, the pre-eminent higher learning institution in Sunni Islam, according to news reports. The station stopped broadcasting the show in April, according to a statement published on its YouTube channel.

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