Independent editor to be tried in Egyptian security court

New York, September 27, 2007­­―The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed that a leading Egyptian editor charged with publishing articles about President Hosni Mubarak’s health will be tried by an emergency state security court. Meanwhile, a Cairo court handed jail terms to the chairman of an independent weekly and four of its journalists.

Ibrahim Eissa, editor-in-chief of the daily Al-Dustour, will stand trial on Monday at the Emergency State Security Court, an emergency court that does not allow for appeals and rarely issues acquittals, several journalists confirmed to CPJ today. Eissa was charged on September 11 with publishing reports “liable to disturb public security and damage the public interest.”

“No journalist has ever been summoned before such an exceptional court,” Gamal Fahmy, a member of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate told CPJ. Egypt’s Emergency Law has been in force since Mubarak assumed power in 1981.

“Egyptian journalists have every right to report on the health of their president,” said Joel Simon, CPJ executive director. “Hauling editor Ibrahim Eissa before a security court that does not allow appeals shows just how far authorities are prepared to go to censor news and intimidate reporters. We call on the state security prosecutor to drop all charges against Eissa immediately.”

Nasser Amin, one of Eissa’s lawyers, told The Associated Press that if his client is convicted, he could face a three-year jail term and a fine.

In a separate development, Wael al-Abrashy, editor-in-chief of the weekly Sawt al-Umma, told CPJ that on Saturday, a Cairo criminal court convicted him, reporters Hana’ Mousa, Rida Awad, and Manal Abdelatif, and the paper’s chairman, Essam Fahmy, of libeling and insulting an Egyptian businessman. Mousa said they each received two-month jail terms and 100 Egyptian pound (US$18) fine in absentia. She said they were not aware of the case or the charges against them and she was surprised to hear of the verdict. Al-Abrashy and Mousa said they did not know what sparked the case and could not provide any further details.

That same day, Mousa told CPJ, a Cairo criminal court convicted her, al-Abrashy, Awad, and Fahmy of libeling and insulting another businessman and sentenced them in absentia to one month in jail. The case stems from a mid-May article Mousa wrote in which a foreign investor and his Egyptian business partner said they were not paid money owed to them for completing a contract with an engineering company. The head of the company accused the weekly of publishing false information and tarnishing the company’s image.

Al-Abrashy told CPJ that he viewed these convictions as part of the crackdown on the independent and opposition press by individuals affiliated or close to the ruling National Democratic Party.

The convictions are the latest in a flurry of verdicts and criminal lawsuits brought against the press by pro-government forces. The recent judicial assault against the press follows a campaign by Egyptian officials and the state-backed press against what they characterize as “rumormongering” by Egyptian newspapers.

In May, CPJ designated Egypt as one of the world’s worst backsliders on press freedom, citing an increase in the number of attacks on the press over the past five years.