CAIRO: The third hearing of Al-Dostour Editor Ibrahim Eissa’s trial continued Wednesday in the New Cairo State Security Court with the testimonies of defense witnesses.
Eissa was once again absent from the session.
Proceedings began with an argument between the defense team and court staff when two defense lawyers were briefly prevented by court security from joining their colleagues.
The first witness to appear, Al-Alam Al-Youm Editor Saad Hagras, denied that the articles published in Al-Dostour concerning the health of President Hosni Mubarak negatively affected the economy in any way – refuting one of the charges brought against Eissa.
He offered to submit to the court stock market reports for August 2007, which are available to the public, as evidence.
Hagras said that rumors began circulating in foreign diplomatic circles and among businessmen before they were published in Al-Dostour, and identified the president’s silence concerning the rumors as the primary reason they continued to spread.
Hagras rejected the prosecution’s claim that the articles in Al-Dostour were in breach of the journalistic code of ethics, saying that “there is nothing wrong with publishing rumors as long as the aim of the article is to uncover the truth. It is the duty of the press to report matters of public concern.
Al-Ahram journalist Ahmed El-Naggar – the second defense witness to appear – underlined that the transfer of power usually has no effect on the economy, and pointed to the absence of any erratic behavior on the stock market after the articles were published.
He rejected the prosecution s claims that the articles may have influenced foreign investor confidence, stating that this would only be the case if the rumors translated into negative company performance.
The final witness to appear was Economist Mohamed El-Naggar, who provided evidence that stock market activity in fact increased by 1.5 percent during the time the Al-Dostour articles appeared. At the same time, he said it was impossible to link the effect, if any, of newspaper articles with stock market activity.
Moreover, the first undersecretary of the Central Bank of Egypt stated that it was impossible to state with any certainty that the articles published in Al-Dostour had a direct effect on the economy.
The court adjourned the case until Dec. 5 after accepting the defense’s argument that there had been a procedural irregularity in the proceedings: Eissa’s lawyers were informed of the charges, rather than Eissa himself, as is required by the law.
Speaking after the hearing, Hafez Abu Saeda, secretary general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and a member of Eissa’s defense team, told Daily News Egypt that he was optimistic about the outcome of the case.
“The witnesses’ testimonies indicate that Eissa’s articles had no effect at all on the Egyptian economy – in contradiction with the claims by the public prosecution office.
Abu Saeda added, “Testimonies given by defense witnesses in fact complement those given by witnesses for the prosecution, and we now have a full picture of the reality, which shows that Ibrahim Eissa is not guilty.
Ibrahim Al-Bassiouny, a member of the defense team, told Daily News Egypt that he felt “ashamed that this case was even being heard.
“The president will die, and I will die, and it will have no effect on the stock market. This case is being brought by parties who have no connection or interest in it, and I fear that political interference will influence the final verdict reached by the court.
Both Al-Bassiouny and Abu Saeda were pessimistic about the verdict in this case, changing governmental attitudes towards journalists who, according to Abu Saeda, the government regards as “criminals.
Journalists in Egypt still risk imprisonment despite President Mubarak’s 2005 pledge that this practice would end. In May of this year, Al-Jazeera journalist Howaida Taha was sentenced to six-months in prison for a documentary on torture in Egypt, which the court found tarnished the country’s reputation.
Eissa and Al-Dostour journalist Sahar Zaky were both sentence to one-year prison terms – which were later reduced to fines – for publishing a report that was critical of the President and his family.