CPJ Concerned By Ongoing Imprisonment
of Egyptian Journalists

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His Excellency Muhammad Hosni Mubarak
President of the Arab Republic of Egypt
c/o His Excellency Ambassador Ahmed Mahir el-Sayed
Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt
3521 International Court, N.W.
Washington, DC 20008

 

July 9, 1998

 

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomes last Thursday's ruling by the Court of Cassation which overturned the libel convictions confirmed early this year against Magdy Hussein, editor in chief of the bi-weekly newspaper Al-Sha'b, and Muhammad Hilal, a reporter for the same newspaper. As Your Excellency is aware, Hussein and Hilal were convicted on appeal in February of libeling Alaa' al-Alfi, the son of former Interior Minister Hassan al-Alfi, and sentenced each to one year in prison. The basis for the charges against them was a series of articles published in Al-Sha'b in 1996, which alleged that Alaa' al-Alfi had used his father's position in government to profit from business deals. Their conviction and subsequent imprisonment were condemned by Egyptian journalists and local and international human rights organizations. We are pleased to learn that Hussein and Hilal have been released from Torah Mazraa Prison on July 3 after serving four months of their sentence.

While CPJ applauds the Court of Cassation's ruling, we remain deeply concerned by the ongoing imprisonment of journalists Gamal Fahmy and Amer Abdel Hadi Nassef, who were similarly convicted of defamation on appeal in March and May, respectively. Fahmy, managing editor of the now-defunct weekly Al-Dustur and a journalist with the weekly Al-Arabi, is currently serving a six-month sentence in Torah Mazraa Prison for allegedly libeling Egyptian writer Tharwat Abaza in a 1995 column published in Al-Arabi. And on May 20, Nassef, a journalist who writes frequently for the weekly Al-Ousbou, was convicted on appeal of libeling Abaza in an article published in the daily newspaper Al-Ahrar in 1996. He was sentenced to three months in prison and, like Fahmy, is serving his term in Torah Mazraa Prison.

In addition to the recent spate of criminal convictions handed down against journalists in 1998, CPJ is also deeply disturbed by the dozens of other Egyptian reporters and editors who currently face the prospect of imprisonment for defamation and other press violations in cases under investigation or pending in the courts.

On several occasions in 1998, our organization has strongly protested the Egyptian authorities' use of criminal statutes to prosecute journalists for their published work. In accordance with the most fundamental democratic principles of a free press, it is CPJ's position that journalists should never face imprisonment for the publication of news and opinion. The prospect of such punishments serves only to inhibit the ability of the press to function freely and to perform its role of providing information to the public. While CPJ recognizes the right of individuals to file libel suits to protect their reputations, it is our view that civil litigation provides sufficient safeguards for any citizen whose reputation has been unfairly damaged by a press report.

CPJ, a non-governmental organization of journalists dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, respectfully urges Your Excellency to ensure that the Egyptian government halt all criminal prosecutions of journalists and secure the release from prison of Gamal Fahmy and Amer Nassef. We also call on the Egyptian government to initiate meaningful legal reform to abolish statutes which provide for the imprisonment of journalists for defamation and other publications offenses. We further ask that you see to it that the Egyptian government implement the necessary legal safeguards to protect journalists from the prospect of imprisonment in response to their publication of news and opinion.

I thank you for your attention to this important matter and look forward to a reply at your earliest convenience.

 

Sincerely,

Ann K. Cooper

Executive Director