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The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights

Two years imprisonment for journalists

14 August 1999

Two years imprisonment for journalists 

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) is seriously concerned at
the rulings issued by the South Cairo Criminal Court today, 14 August, in
the case brought by Minister of Agriculture and Deputy Prime Minister
Yussef Wali against four Al-Shaab newspaper. Three journalists ­Magdi Ahmed
Hussein, editor-in-chief of Al-Shaab newspaper and Board member of the
Journalists' Syndicate, Salah Bedewi, and Essam Hanafi, caricaturist­
received  terms of imprisonment for two years and LE20,000 fines, while
Adel Hussein ­journalist and secretary general of Al-Amal political party­
received a LE20,000 fine. In addition, all of them were ordered to pay the
claimant 501LE as damages. 

The case began on 1 April 1999, when Minister Yussef Wali filed complaint
to the General Prosecutor accusing the journalists of slandering him in a
campaign raised by Al-Shaab newspaper. After questioning the four
journalists, the Prosecutor decided to refer them to the criminal court on
charges of libel and slander of a government official. The first hearing
was held on 15 May.

Although EOHR's stance is to respect all judicial verdicts, it strongly
condemns the use of imprisonment penalties against journalists in
publication and opinion cases. Past rulings by the Supreme Court have
argued that the lives of governmental officials are of public interest,
thus any political criticism directed at them is acceptable on grounds that
it tackles subjects of concern for the society and which have an impact on
its future, security and independence. In this respect, in 1926 the Supreme
Court acquitted a journalist accused of slandering the Prime Minister for
describing him as "illiterate, short-sighted and lacking sensibility."
Also, the same journalist accused the parliamentary deputies of being
"degenerate, immoral and greedy." The Supreme Court considered the
journalist's statements as acceptable criticism and stated that even though
the terms used were harsh, they were used as exaggerations to describe

EOHR is gravely concerned about this ruling and draws attention to the need
to review the legal framework governing the press in Egypt in order to
cancel all freedom-restricting penalties in cases of opinion and
publication included in Chapter 14 of the Penal Code. EOHR advocates the
use of fines only, especially that the claimant has the right to respond in
the same newspaper, and to file a case for appropriate civil damages before
the civil courts in case it is confirmed that the journalists violated the
Code of Conduct of the  journalistic profession. Finally, EOHR considers
that the use of freedom-restricting penalties will impose further
restrictions on journalists' freedom and on their right to exercise
acceptable criticism, which constitutes one of the main guarantees of press

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