Eissa gets two months in jail

New York, September 29, 2008―The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the two-month jail term handed down by a Cairo appeal court to a leading Egyptian editor on Sunday.

The Boulak Abul Ela Appeal Court on the outskirts of Cairo reduced the six-month jail term given in March to Ibrahim Eissa, editor-in-chief of the independent daily Al-Dustour, to two months in prison for “publishing false information and rumors” about President Hosni Mubarak’s health. The court said Eissa’s August 2007 articles were likely to disturb public security and harm the country’s economy.

The verdict, which was issued amid tight security measures and heavy police presence both inside and outside the courtroom, took lawyers by surprise and prompted protests among journalists and human rights activists, who chanted anti-Mubarak slogans inside the courthouse.

Eissa’s lawyers told CPJ they would take what they called a “politically motivated verdict” to the cassation court, the country’s highest jurisdiction. Ibrahim Mansour, executive director of Al-Dustour, told CPJ that the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate and human rights groups called on the public prosecutor not to implement the two-month jail sentence until the court of cassation examines the appeal.

“We are dismayed by the Egyptian government’s determination to jail our colleague and to keep using the judiciary to settle scores with journalists who criticize President Mubarak,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We back our Egyptian colleagues’ call on the public prosecutor not to implement the verdict, which we hope will be overturned on appeal.”

Eissa, who has been dogged for several years by criminal prosecutions, was charged under the penal code in September 2007 with publishing reports about Mubarak’s health that were “liable to disturb public security and damage public interest.” The case was first hastily submitted to the Emergency State Security Court, an exceptional tribunal that does not allow for appeals and rarely issues acquittals. But it was examined later by a misdemeanor court following a local and international outcry.

“We did not expect such a harsh and unfair verdict,” Essam Eissa, Al-Dustour‘s lawyer told CPJ. “The charges are groundless. The verdict, which has a political dimension, is based solely on conclusions reached by the state security prosecutor.”

Al-Dustour was neither the only nor the first Egyptian paper to speculate about Mubarak’s health. But Eissa’s critical and sarcastic articles, particularly one published at the end of August 2007 in which he said the president in Egypt “is a god and the gods don’t get sick,” prompted anger in official circles and was used later to prosecute him.

Eissa currently faces many cases, most of them filed by members of the ruling national Democratic Party headed by Mubarak, 80, and influenced by his son, Gamal, who is widely expected to succeed his father as president.