New York, February 23, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the decision of a Cairo criminal appeals court today to uphold the conviction and one-year prison sentence of journalist Abdel Nasser al-Zuheiry for defamation.
Al-Zuheiry, a reporter for the independent daily Al Masry al-Youm (The Egyptian Today), had lodged the appeal along with two colleagues at the paper, Alaa al-Ghatrifi, and Youssef al-Oumi, who had been convicted of the same offense and also sentenced to a year in jail. The court overturned their convictions. It upheld fines of E£10,001 (US$1,743) for all three journalists.
Earlier today, CPJ wrote Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak urging him to fulfill a commitment he made two years ago today to eliminate prison sentences for what journalists report in Egypt.
“The impending imprisonment of our colleague Abdel Nasser al-Zuheiry makes a mockery of President Mubarak’s pledge to do away with jail time for journalists,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “It’s a reminder that Egypt is a long way from recognizing some of the most basic international standards for a free press that say journalists should never be jailed for what they write.”
Hisham Kassem, vice-president of the board of Al Masry al-Youm, said he was baffled by the ruling and said he feared al-Zuheiry would be arrested soon. Al-Zuheiry has moved into the offices of the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate in order to avoid imprisonment.
Al-Zuheiry’s lawyer told CPJ he planned to refer the ruling to the Court of Cassation, the highest appeals court.
The three journalists were charged with defaming former Housing Minister Mohammed Ibrahim Suleiman in an August 2004 article.