Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 2005 promise that custodial sentences for journalists who commit publishing crimes would be abolished remained unfulfilled in 2009.
Freedom of expression
In October, Al-Shorouk editor Salama Ahmed Salama and journalist Saber Mashour were sentenced to one year in prison in absentia (with the option of paying a fine instead) after the independent daily published an article about alleged corruption within the Housing Ministry’s ‘Ebny Beitak’ (Build Your Own Home) housing scheme.
Earlier in the year, five journalists were given an LE 10,000 fine for flouting a publishing ban imposed by a judge hearing the case of Hisham Talaat Moustafa, a member of the ruling National Democratic Party who was found guilty of ordering the murder of Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim.
In November, Egypt marked the publication of the country’s first adult graphic novel in its own inimitable way – by banning it. A misdemeanors court found author Magdy L. Shafee and publisher Mohamed El-Sharqawy guilty of publishing and distributing a publication contrary to public morals. In addition to ordering the seizure of all copies of the book, the court handed down a LE 5,000 fine to each man.
In criticizing the verdict, rights group the Hisham Mubarak Law Center commented that a “court room is not the place for literary criticism.
Egypt – branded one of 12 countries that systematically repress internet users by Reporters Without Borders this year – failed to release Kareem Amer despite having completed three quarters of his four-year sentence.
Amer – convicted in 2007 of insulting the president and incitement to hate Islam on his blog – had the right to be released on Nov. 5, 2009.
Blogger and Bedouin rights activist Mosaad Abu Fagr remains imprisoned under emergency law which allows the interior ministry to reactivate a detention order every time a court orders the release of an individual. Over 10 detention orders have been issued against Abu Fagr since his arrest in December 2007.
Abu Fagr is one of two bloggers detained without charge under emergency law powers. The other is Hani Nazeer, arrested in October 2008 “because of his strong opposition to both Muslim and Christian hardliners, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information says.
In April the conviction of Nader Gohar for illegal possession of wireless telecommunication equipment was quashed. Gohar owns the Cairo News Company (CNC), which provides TV equipment and satellite transmission services to stations such as Al-Jazeera and the BBC. The conviction was widely regarded as punishment for images of protestors in Mahalla stamping on a poster of President Hosni Mubarak during anti-government demonstrations in April 2008.
Freedom of belief
A significant and positive development in respect for freedom of religious belief occurred in March, when the Supreme Administrative Court upheld the right of Egyptian Bahais to obtain personal identification documents without having to falsify their religious affiliation. The decision came at the end of a five-year legal battle fought by Bahai families forced to either list their religion as Muslim, Christian or Jew or forego essential personal ID documents. Egyptian Bahais can now put a dash in the religious affiliation field on birth certificates and ID cards.
Religious minorities in Egypt still, however, allege that a failure to hold to account individuals involved in acts of sectarian violence contributes to their reoccurrence.
The use of reconciliation sessions rather than a criminal legal process – even where Christians have suffered physical injury or damage to their property, which gives rise to a legitimate legal claim – both encourages further acts of violence and leads to a feeling of vulnerability within Egypt’s Coptic community, rights groups say.
In March, Bahai villagers in El-Shoraneyya, Sohag, were forced to flee their homes after a mob attacked them, setting fire to their homes. Some of the victims alleged that the police did not do enough to protect them. Nobody has been charged in connection with the incident.
Fatalities caused by religious violence increased between April and June, NGO the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said in a report issued in November.