Hussein, who once edited the long-banned opposition newspaper Al-Shaab, was initially arrested on charges of illegally crossing into Gaza. In February 2009, a military court sentenced Hussein, a vocal critic of President Hosni Mubarak, to a two-year prison sentence.
While in prison, authorities resurrected a 14-year-old criminal defamation case stemming from opinion pieces in Al-Shaab that accused then-Interior Minister Hassan El Alfy of corruption and mismanagement. In 1996, a court convicted Hussein of defamation and fined him 15,000 Egyptian pounds (US$2,631).
Hussein’s lawyers appealed the ruling at the time to the Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest court, but the case sat dormant until 2010, when the court abruptly decided to hear the appeal. That the appeal was heard after such a long dormancy was seen by human rights lawyers as a political move aimed at keeping Hussein in prison.
The Court of Cassation ordered a lower court to retry the defamation case. A Cairo court then issued a new decision in mid-June, imposing a one-year prison term. The new verdict “took everybody by surprise and obviously came about to keep an influential writer and opposition figure behind bars and far away from future parliamentary and presidential elections,” Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, told CPJ.