The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to protest Wednesday's decision in the Criminal Court in Cairo to sentence Ahmed Ezzedine, a journalist with the independent weekly Al-Osbou newspaper, to two years in prison.
Ezzedine told CPJ that the court found him guilty of libeling Egypt's deputy prime minister and agriculture minister, Youssef Wali. The charge was based on an article he wrote in June 2003 that accused Wali of falsely testifying at the trial of Maher al-Guindy, the former governor of Giza who was found guilty of taking bribes in 2002.
Ezzedine said that Wali filed suit against him immediately after the article was published.
According to local journalists, the only remaining legal avenue available for Ezzedine is to appeal to Egypt's highest court, the Court of Cassation. Journalists also said that Ezzedine is not behind bars yet because he did not attend Wednesday's session, when the sentence was pronounced. But the journalist could be arrested at any moment.
According to press reports, the court fined Ezzedine 20,000 pounds (US$3,200).
CPJ condemns any effort to criminally prosecute a journalist for defamation, and there is an emerging international consensus that criminal sanctions in such cases contravene international law. Adequate remedies should be available in the civil arena for those who feel they have been defamed. In February of this year, Your Excellency issued a pledge to reform Egyptian law so that journalists will no longer face the prospect of imprisonment for their professional work.
In that spirit, CPJ calls on you to examine all possible legal options to ensure that the prison sentence against Ahmed Ezzedine is reversed. We call on you to improve press freedom conditions in Egypt by honoring your pledge.
Thank you for your attention in this urgent matter. We await your reply.