CAIRO: The Abbaseyya appeals court yesterday adjourned the hearing of the appeal launched by Al-Dostour editor-in-chief Ibrahim Eissa until June 8 following a request by Eissa’s defense team that they be afforded a delay.
Eissa was convicted of spreading false information affecting national stability in March.
He was sentenced to six months imprisonment after the court upheld the prosecution’s claim that articles published in opposition daily Al-Dostour in August 2007 concerning the state of President Hosni Mubarak’s health had undermined investor confidence and adversely affected the Egyptian economy.
For the first time during the course of the trial, Eissa himself appeared in court yesterday as he was obliged to under court procedures which require that appellants attend appeal hearings involving this category of offense.
Lawyer Samir El-Shestawy – who previously raised criminal charges against Eissa following the publication of the 2007 articles in a case that was thrown out in March – spoke during the court session.
El-Shestawy has now raised a civil claim against Eissa.
Critics allege that the lawyer is settling political scores against Eissa on behalf of the ruling National Democratic Party.
El-Shestawy told the court that his own children – who were also in court – had been deeply disturbed by the Al-Dostour articles.
“They entered my office crying about what they had read concerning President Mubarak’s health, El-Shestawy told the court.
“My claim against Ibrahim Eissa is not a personal dispute between me and him. It concerns articles written in an unacceptable style which presented extreme details about the President’s health, he continued.
El-Shestawy requested that his children be allowed to give evidence in court in support of his claim that they had been disturbed by the articles published in Al-Dostour.
Speaking for the defense, Hossam Sultan requested that the defense be awarded a long delay in order to study case documents including the prosecution’s appeal document, which they had only accessed that morning.
He also spoke out against what he termed the “terrorization of defense lawyers by government supporters, saying that lawyers had been repeatedly harassed by court staff, who asked for, and then questioned, their lawyer credentials before court hearings.
He requested that the defense team be allowed to make submissions in a “secure environment.
Sultan also criticized the prosecution’s failure to present any legal arguments or evidence in support of their case against Eissa.
Members of the defense team attempted to interrupt prosecution lawyers during their submissions on several occasions and also repeatedly requested sufficient time to present their case, lawyer Gamal Eid told the court that they had been denied this during previous hearings.
When, before starting, Journalists’ Syndicate lawyer Sayyed Abou Zeid requested that he be given sufficient time to make his submission, judge Hazem Waguih interrupted him.
“I understand that you are enthusiastic but I will not stand for suggestions that I am not giving enough time to the defense to make submissions or that I am in any way biased towards the prosecution, Waguih said.
In addition to requesting a delay in the hearing of the case, Abou Zeid pointed to the danger that a conviction in this case could pose to journalists’ right to access and publish information.
Defense lawyer Hafez Abu Saeda followed this by suggesting that the case against Eissa itself was doing more harm to Egypt’s reputation than the allegedly harmful content of the Al-Dostour articles.
Speaking after the 40 minute court session Eissa told the press that the case against him has the potential to go one of two ways.
“The verdict handed down in this case will either raise the level of journalism in Egypt or increase restrictions on it, Eissa said.
Abu Saeda told Daily News Egypt that he did not think judge Waguih was sympathetic to the defence’s claim.
“It’s a not a good sign that he gave us such a short delay to prepare our case: we have over 300 pages of documents to go over, Abu Saeda said.
“The difference in the way he addressed defense lawyers and gave more chance to the NDP lawyers is also discouraging, he continued.
Kamal Labidi, who attended the court hearing as the representative of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), a Canada-based network of freedom of expression groups, condemned the willingness of lawyer Shastawy to use his children in the court battle.
“Is it right that children be dragged before a court in breach of children’s rights? he asked.
“It is clear that this case is being used to settle political scores, he continued.
At the end of the hearing three activists shouting slogans in support of Eissa stood on court seats holding up signs calling for the release of individuals who remain in political detention after the events of April 6 in Mahalla.
In a separate case known as the ‘four editors case’ Eissa – together with editors Wael Ebrashy, Adel Hamouda and Abdel Halim Qandil – was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment in September 2007.
The next hearing of the appeal against the sentence will be heard June 7 by the Agouza Misdemeanours Court.