CAIRO: El-Dostour editor-in-chief Ibrahim Eissa was sentenced Wednesday to six months imprisonment after being found guilty of spreading false information that damaged national stability.
Eissa remains free on LE 200 bail pending appeal and did not attend the brief court hearing.
During the session the New Cairo Court was under heavy security, with rows of policemen and barricades controlling the approach and access to the building.
The trial began last year after El-Dostour published articles suggesting that President Hosni Mubarak is in ill health.
The prosecution alleged that these articles undermined investor confidence and that the Egyptian economy was damaged as a result.
During the trial Eissa s defense put forward evidence by economic experts that showed that the newspaper articles had had no perceptible effect on the Egyptian economy.
In addition, El-Dostour was not the only newspaper that published speculations about the President s health.
After pronouncing the verdict, judge Sherif Kamel who heard the case, enumerated the reasons for the final ruling.
He said that according to his interpretation of the newspaper article for which Eissa was tried, it was not necessary to prove that the false information published actually had deleterious effects on national stability.
Kamel also said that the fact that El-Dostour was not the first, nor the only, newspaper to publish these speculations was irrelevant.
In response, Kamel Labidi, regional Middle East and North Africa coordinator of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists said that the verdict is a severe blow to freedom of expression in Egypt, and that it reflects a culture of repression in the Arab region as a whole.
Today is a sad day. It confirms that attacks on freedom of the press are occurring throughout the Arab region – five journalists in Jordan received prison sentences last week. Arab states are determined to stifle freedom of expression. One need only think of the Charter recently agreed on by the Arab League, Labidi told Daily News Egypt.
In February the Arab League approved a draft charter of recommendations on the regulations of satellite television broadcasting put forward by Egypt and Saudi Arabia the vaguely-worded provisions of which were criticized as a tool for suppressing freedom of expression.
The charter s strategy is to prevent journalists and privately-owned satellite stations from doing their jobs. Today s verdict will spread fear and self-censorship amongst those in the media, he explained.
Eissa wasn’t available for comment by press time.
In February of this year Egypt was ranked number seven in the top ten press freedom backsliders of the past five years.
Last year four independent and opposition editors were convicted of spreading false information, while in a separate case three editors from Al-Wafd daily were convicted of criminal libel and sentenced to two years imprisonment.
The case against Eissa is widely regarded as an attempt to settle political scores with the editor, an outspoken critic of the government who has been the target of a number of court cases.
Labidi affirmed this, saying, Ibrahim Eissa has been accused of harming the country s interests when he was only doing his job. Why has he been singled out? It is clear that this case was politically motivated.