Six months for discussing president's health

Ibrahim Issa, the editor in chief of Egypt's Al-Dustour newspaper has been sentenced to six months in prison for writing about the health of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Issa has the right to appeal.
Egypt, Cairo, journalist Ibrahim Issa © Khaled Desouki / AFP
Ibrahim Issa. © AFP

BEIRUT/CAIRO (MENASSAT) – The outspoken editor in chief of a leading Egyptian opposition newspaper, Ibrahim Issa, was sentenced to six months in prison and a 200 L.E (around $50) fine on Wednesday for having questioned the health of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in a series of articles.

According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo), Issa remains free on bail pending an appeal on his part.

Issa, who managed the Egyptian daily Al-Dustour, was charged and convicted of spreading "false information," "harming the public interest and national stability" and "publishing fake news that inflicted damage to the national economy."

The case brought against the editor was based on accusations that his articles on the alleged deteriorating health of President Mubarak led prominent foreign investors to pull out more than $350 million from the country.

Concurrently, First Lady Suzanne Mubarak said in an interview with TV channel al-Arabiya that her husband's health was "excellent" and that "there must be punishment either for a journalist, a television program, or newspapers that publishes the rumors."

It was reported, however, that experts from Egypt's Central Bank were unable to measure and determine the impact of Issa's supposedly slandering articles on the Egyptian economy.

In an interview with AFP shortly after receiving his sentence from judge Sherif Kamel Mustapha at Boulak Abu Al-Ela Court, Issa referred to the verdict as being "against all international human rights conventions."

Local and international rights groups also reacted with stark criticism to Issa's sentencing.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that "Eissa's prosecution shows how Egypt's authorities shamelessly use the courts to punish outspoken journalists," while Cairo-based HRinfo NGO said that "the Egyptian government has been insistent on taking revenge of Issa and convicting him."

Amnesty International also denounced the verdict and called on the Egyptian authorities to allow greater press freedom.

The many twists in the case since the launch of the investigation into Issa in September 2007 have turned the case into somewhat of a legal merry-go-round.

At first, Issa was due to stand before a military tribunal where he would have had no right to appeal the sentence. In the end, the case was transferred to an ordinary misdemeanors court.

Issa faces a total of 14 cases, the majority of the suits filed by members of Egypt's ruling national Democratic Party led by Mubarak. They have accused Issa of tarnishing the image of Egypt and the country's leaders.

Al-Dustour's editor is not the first writer to be imprisoned for raising questions about the health of the 79-year old Egyptian President and Egyptian national affairs.

In the fall of 2007, several journalists were given prison terms for misquoting an Egyptian minister and writing about President Mubarak's health, leading press activists to talk about a clampdown on the country's independent press.

Members of Egypt's opposition and independent press responded by organizing a one-day publication strike on October 23. They were soon joined by Egypt's vibrant blogosphere who held a 'no post' day on which bloggers refrained from writing on their web logs in support of Issa and the independent press.

Several press freedom groups have voiced concern over Egypt's deteriorating press environment.