CAIRO: The Abbaseyya Appeals Court on Sunday rejected Al-Dostour editor-in-chief Ibrahim Eissa’s appeal and sentenced him to two months imprisonment.
Eissa himself was not in court during the court session, which lasted less than a minute.
In March 2008, Eissa was convicted of “publishing false information of a nature to disturb public order or security under article 188 of the Penal Code and sentenced to six months imprisonment and a fine of LE 200.
Al-Dostour had published articles in August 2007 suggesting that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is in ill-health. The court found in favor of the prosecution’s claim that the articles had had a detrimental effect on the Egyptian economy.
Journalists’ Syndicate defense lawyer Sayyed Abu Zaid confirmed that Eissa’s defense lawyer will petition for a postponement of the implementation of the verdict pending review of the sentence by the Cassation Court.
Lawyers say that in theory Eissa could be arrested and taken to prison immediately.
Eissa also faces the risk of imprisonment in a separate case brought by a member of the National Democratic Party.
He was sentenced to one-year imprisonment with three other newspaper editors accused of publishing false information. The next appeal hearing is scheduled for Oct. 25, 2008.
Sunday’s judgment has shocked observers, delivered in the midst of a string of highly-publicized disasters in Egypt.
At the end of August a huge fire gutted the historic building in which the Shoura Council meets. A week later, a rockslide killed over 100 people living in slum housing, amidst allegations that the authorities had failed to act to avert the tragedy.
A group of foreign tourists and their Egyptian guides were kidnapped last week near the border with Sudan, while on Saturday evening, the day before the verdict was delivered, a fire erupted in downtown Cairo’s National Theater.
“I thought that the government would be cleverer than this, given the disasters which have recently occurred in Egypt, Kamal Labidi, from the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, told Daily News Egypt.”Eissa is sentenced to prison at a time when those responsible for these disasters enjoy immunity and protection, he continued.
Labidi says that in bringing this case against Eissa – a frequent and outspoken critic of the government – the government is seeking to intimidate journalists.
“The aim of this judgment is to seek revenge against one of the best journalists in the country, and spread fear. However, the number of independent journalists is increasing, and if they think that in sentencing Eissa to prison they will frighten others, they are mistaken. I doubt that those who wish to contain journalists will win their war on press freedom.
The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) echoed Labidi’s view in a statement issued Sunday.
“This verdict is an attempt to destroy press freedom in Egypt, the statement reads.
“ANHRI calls on all journalists and Egyptian society to stand for press freedom and freedom of expression against a regime that has chosen repression, and failed in everything except backing corruption and repressing movements calling for democracy and advocates of press freedom.
Speaking outside the courtroom Samir El-Shestawy – a lawyer affiliated with the ruling National Democratic Party who brought a civil claim against Eissa – denied that the case undermines press freedom.
“The court was convinced that Eissa deliberately committed a crime, and that the aim of this act was to spread terror amongst the general public, he told reporters.
“This is not a violation of press freedom. This is prosecution of a crime which could have been committed by anyone, but happens to have been committed by a journalist, he said.In February 2008 the Committee for the Protection of Journalists placed Egypt at seven in its list of the top 10 backsliders on press freedom, pointing to the prosecution of Eissa amongst other journalists to illustrate the way in which the courts are used in an attempt to limit journalists’ freedom of expression.
“I am puzzled by this verdict, journalist Hisham Kassem told Daily News Egypt.
“Here Egypt is before the world, on the record as imprisoning a journalist, and it gives him two months imprisonment – without even having proved that his articles had any effect on the economy, as is alleged. If you’re going to imprison a journalist give him two years, ten years – it won’t make a difference, the damage is done, he said.