Egyptian court sentences journalist to a year in prison

New York, March 10, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the one-year prison sentence handed down to Egyptian journalist Amira Malash for defamation. On Tuesday, a court in Giza near Cairo convicted Malash, a reporter for the independent weekly Al-Fagr, of defaming Judge Attia Mohammad Awad in an article she wrote in July 2005 alleging that he had taken bribes.

“The sentencing of our colleague Amira Malash spotlights President Mubarak’s complete failure to eliminate criminal penalties in cases of defamation and other press offenses” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Two journalists have been convicted in the past two weeks revealing a continued disregard for freedom of expression in Egypt.”

On February 23, a Cairo criminal appeals court upheld the conviction and one-year prison sentence of Abdel Nasser al-Zuheiry, a reporter for the independent daily Al Masry al-Youm (The Egyptian Today). Al-Zuheiry 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

The Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate and Al-Fagr said they planned to appeal Malash’s conviction. Malash is not currently in jail. Wael Abdelfatah, deputy editor-in-chief of al-Fagr, told CPJ, “the court held one session, which lasted only eight minutes, before issuing the verdict against Amira Malash in absentia.” He added, “The judge verbally attacked the Egyptian press in his ruling. The profession of journalism is in danger.”

CPJ wrote a letter to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak urging him to fulfill a commitment he made two years ago to introduce legislation that would decriminalize press offenses. The 1996 Press Law, which is still in effect, prescribes prison sentences of up to two years for defamation. The penal code can be used to imprison journalists for “violating public morality” and “damaging national interest.”

Read the letter.