By Lauren Mellinger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
CAIRO, Egypt – On September 28, Ibrahim Issa, editor of Al Dustour, an independent newspaper published in Egypt, was sentenced to two months in prison for publishing rumors that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was near death. The verdict followed a lower court ruling in March that had sentenced Issa to six months in prison.
In August 2007, Issa published a series of articles in Al Dustour alleging that Mubarak’s health was rapidly deteriorating, and claimed that the President had lapsed into a coma. Issa was arrested and charged with “publishing false information and rumors … and damaging public interest and national stability.” According to prosecutors, as a result of Issa’s allegations, foreign investors withdrew more than $350 million dollars from the Egyptian stock exchange.
According to Issa, “The verdict opens the door of hell…it deals a blow to all illusions of a free press and confirms the state’s hostile position towards freedom of opinion and expression.”
The Egyptian government has a history of cracking down on journalists for publishing on a range of issues including the President’s health, inflation, poverty and government corruption. Often, journalists or bloggers who publish on such issues are arrested, detained and imprisoned.
According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, four years ago, Mubarak promised that he would end imprisonment for crimes related to free press. Yet in the last year, at least seven Egyptian journalists were sentenced to up to two years in prison on charges ranging from misquoting the Minister of Justice to spreading false rumors about Mubarak.
In protest over Issa’s conviction, more than 23 Egyptian newspapers suspended publication for one day. The Journalists Syndicate filed a petition requesting the prison sentence be delayed pending an appeal to Egypt’s highest appeals court. Reporters Without Borders denounced Issa’s trial, and Amnesty International stated that the trial and conviction are part of a pattern by the Egyptian government to “chill” freedom of the press. According to the Egyptian Hisham Mubarak Legal Centre, Issa’s conviction for publishing allegations of the President’s failing health is in violation of international treaties that protect freedom of the press, of which Egypt is a party.
For more information, please see:
Al Arabiya – Egypt Editor Jailed Over Mubarak Health Rumours – 28 September 2008
Al Jazeera – Egypt Editor Jailed Amid Press Row – 28 September 2008
BBC – Egypt Editor’s Jail Term Cut – 28 September 2008
Los Angeles Times – EGYPT: Editor Sentenced to Jail – 28 September 2008