New York, September 20, 2001-An Egyptian State Security Court has convicted tabloid editor Mamdouh Mahran of undermining public security, publishing scandalous photos, insulting religion, and causing civil turmoil.
On September 16, Mahran, editor of the controversial weekly newspaper Al-Nabaa, was sentenced to three years in prison and fined 200 Egyptian pounds (about US$50).
The charges against Mahran arose from a June 17 Al-Nabaa cover story alleging that a Coptic Christian monk had sex with several women in a Coptic monastery in southern Egypt and filmed the encounters to blackmail the women. The piece was accompanied by provocative photos.
The Al-Nabaa article led to demonstrations and riots among Egypt’s Coptic minority, who viewed the story as an insult to their religion.
Coptic Church officials vehemently denied that sexual acts had taken place in the monastery and pointed out that the monk in question had been defrocked five years earlier, a fact omitted from Al-Nabaa‘s account.
Mahran was not present in court for the verdict, and it is not clear whether he has been detained. But according to a legal expert quoted in the semi-official Egyptian daily Al-Ahram on September 17, the verdict against Mahran is enforceable immediately and may not be appealed.
“While we understand that many Egyptians were offended by the Al-Nabaa article, CPJ believes that journalists should not face criminal prosecution for their work,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We call on the Egyptian government to release Mamdouh Mahran immediately and to abolish criminal laws used to restrict press freedom.”
The September 16 ruling also ordered the confiscation of the offending edition, as well as that of the daily Akher Khabar, which is also edited by Mahran. Akher Khabar ran an article about the alleged scandal one day after the Al-Nabaa cover story.
Previously, on July 4, an administrative court revoked Al-Nabaa‘s publishing license over the article.
Since 1998, six Egyptian journalists have been jailed for libel and other criminal charges because of their journalistic work. Three of those of have been imprisoned more than once.