Three journalists sentenced to prison

New York, April 18, 2005
—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the sentencing of three Egyptian journalists to one year in prison.

In a Cairo criminal court yesterday, Abdel Nasser al-Zuheiry, Alaa al-Ghatrifi, and Youssef al-Oumi, reporters for the independent daily Al Masry El Youm (The Egyptian Today) were found guilty of defaming Egypt’s Minister of Housing Mohammed Ibrahim Suleiman in an August 2004 article. The journalists were not present for their sentencing, but could be arrested at any time.

According to Hisham Kassem, the chief executive officer of Al-Masry al-Youm, the article in question alleged that authorities had searched the minister’s office and that Suleiman had been temporarily suspended from duty.

The day after the story’s publication, the Egyptian cabinet denied that Suleiman’s office had been searched or that he had been suspended. Kassem said that the paper published the government’s denial, but stood by the story.

About a month after the article’s publication, Suleiman took legal action against journalists.

The journalists received the sentences more than a year after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s call to eliminate criminal penalties in cases of defamation and other press infractions. The Egyptian parliament has yet to amend the current law under which journalists may be sentenced to up to two years in prison for defamation.

“Despite official promises, Egyptian journalists continue to be imprisoned for their work,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “These sentences illustrate why President Hosni Mubarak’s directive to end prison terms for defamation must be carried out. They should be reversed as soon as possible”