Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 17:21 pm (KSA) 14:21 pm (GMT)

Egypt editor jailed over Mubarak health rumors

Egyptian journalist Ibrahim Eissa.
Egyptian journalist Ibrahim Eissa.

An Egyptian court of appeal on Sunday ordered outspoken Egyptian editor Ibrahim Eissa to be jailed for two months for writing rumors about President Hosni Mubarak's health, a judicial source said.

Eissa, editor-in-chief of the independent al-Dustur daily, was charged of spreading false information, damaging the public interest and national stability and had faced up to three years in prison.

The court verdict followed an initial ruling in March which ordered him jailed for six months.

Eissa was accused of harming Egypt's economy after the rumors allegedly caused foreign investors to withdraw investments worth more than 350 million dollars from the Egyptian stock exchange.

Commenting on the court verdict, Eissa told AlArabiya.net that it is not a verdict against him alone, but it is a verdict against all Egyptian journalists. "The verdict poses a real threat to the whole political life in Egypt… Jail sentences for journalists have now become a reality," Eissa said.

"I'll be jailed for two months because I wrote a 'view'. This means that any journalist, who expresses his opinion in a public issue whatsoever, could be jailed for two or three months or one whole year," he commented, urging Egyptian journalists to stand stiff and defend their freedom of expression.

Eissa described the verdict as the "crisis of a dictatorship system."

The verdict has been condemned by local and international rights groups who described it as part of the ongoing curbing of freedom of expression in Egypt.

Reporters Without Borders Organization condemned the Egyptian verdict against Eissa and said that the Egyptian authorities directed a message (through the verdict) to all Egyptian journalists warning them never to over pass the 'red lines'.

London-based human rights group Amnesty International had denounced the trial earlier, saying it is a policy followed by Egyptian authorities who bring criminal charges against journalists to curb media freedom in cases of public interest.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information said on Saturday it hoped Mubarak would use his authority "to end the trial as he did several times by pardon or retrial."

"This case reminds us of the president's promise made four years ago to end imprisonment on crimes related to the press publishing," it said in a statement.

Eissa has run into legal trouble with the Egyptian government before. His newspaper, which is sharply critical of the regime, was closed in 1998 by the government after it published a statement by an Islamist group threatening Christian businessmen in Egypt.

Eissa himself was convicted in 2006 for defaming Mubarak but only paid a fine then. Last year, he and three other newspaper editors were sentenced to a year in prison for defaming the president and his ruling party. A verdict on an appeal is expected in October.

Speculation about Mubarak was widely reported in Egypt's independent press and included reports of his hospitalization, travel abroad for treatment and even death.

At least seven journalists were sentenced in September 2007 to up to two years in prison on charges ranging from misquoting the justice minister to spreading rumors about the 80-year-old president.

The harsh treatment of the Egyptian media led the United States last year to voice "deep concern" at the convictions, a criticism rejected as "unacceptable interference" by its ally - Egypt.

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