Editors, journalists to stand trial for violating Tamim gag order

Two editors and three journalists from the independent Egyptian dailies Al-Masry Al Youm and Al-Wafd will have to stand trial for violating a gag order on the trial of an Egyptian business tycoon accused of ordering the murder of Lebanese pop star Suzanne Tamim.
Lebanese pop star Suzanne Tamim was murdered in Dubai in July. R.R.

BEIRUT, November 28, 2008 (MENASSAT) — Magdi el-Galad, editor of Al-Masri al-Youm, and Abbas el-Tarabili, editor of Al-Wafd, along with three journalists from their publications, will have to stand trial on December 4 for publishing the testimony of a witness in the Suzanne Tamim murder trial, according to Egypt's MENA news agency.

Egypt's Prosecutor General, Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, has referred the trial to the South Cairo Misdemeanors Court.

Ehab Zalaky, Managing Editor at Al-Masry Al-Youm, told MENASSAT in a phone interview that the decision is an attempt to curb the independent press from reporting the truth about the high-profile trial.

"This is an effort to prevent independent newspapers from reporting wisely on the Tamim trial," he said.

Hisham Talaat Mustafa, the former chairman of Egypt's largest publicly traded property company, the Talaat Moustafa Group, and a prominent member of Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party, was charged in September 2008 with paying a retired Egyptian police officer, Mohsen El-Sokkari, US$2 million to eliminate Lebanese pop start Suzanne Tamim after their alleged romantic relationship went sour. 

Tamim was found brutally stabbed and partially decapitated at her posh Dubai flat on July 28. Mustafa has denied his involvement in the murder and El-Sokkari has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge.

'Media blackout'

Last week, the presiding judge in the Tamim trial, Al-Mohammadi Qunsua, imposed a media blackout on the trial, banning the media from publishing "anything related to the trial or to report details of the hearings."

The media are now only allowed to report on actual court decisions, such as adjournments of hearings or the final verdict.  

The reporters accused of violating the press ban, among them Yousri Al-Badri, have denied the charges, claiming that the testimony they published was in fact a court matter and therefore excluded from the gag order.

"We printed the testimony of the witness from his questioning by the Public Prosecutor, not from the details of what happened inside the court room," El-Badri told Daily News Egypt.

El-Badri also said he had not been informed about his trial personally and that he only found out by reading about itin the governmental press.

"We have not been notified officially that we are on trial; all we know is that the Prosecutor General sent a statement to the semi-official newspapers. Al-Masry Al-Youm was not sent this statement," said El-Badri. 

Zalaky told MENASSAT that the Egyptian state-run press, which includes newspapers such as Al-Goumhoreya and Al-Akhbar, had published the same excerpt from the witness testimony as Al-Masry Al-Youm, but that the investigation against those papers was halted yesterday.

The media blackout in the Tamim murder trial marks the fourth time Egypt issues a press ban in less than three months, and it is the second gag order in the Tamim case. 

With its juicy ingredients of fame, sex, and power, Suzanne Tamim's murder and trial have sparked a media frenzy and have became a top item in Arab news and talk shows.

When rumors started circulating in the Egyptian press about the possible involvement of Talaat Mustafa in the murder, Egyptian prosecutors issued a gag order on media reports about the case in August.

Another press ban was imposed on a lawsuit against a prominent Egyptian businessman accused of bribery in September. In the same month, a gag order was imposed on reporting about the abduction of foreign tourists in southern Egypt.