(AFP) – Sep 28, 2008
CAIRO (AFP) — An appeals court on Sunday ordered outspoken Egyptian editor Ibrahim Eissa to be jailed for two months for writing rumours about President Hosni Mubarak's health, a judicial source said.
"The appeals court ordered him jailed for two months," the source said, asking not to be named.
Eissa, editor-in-chief of the independent Al-Dustur daily, was charged with spreading "false information... damaging the public interest and national stability," and had faced up to three years in prison.
The verdict followed an initial ruling in March which ordered him jailed for six months.
Eissa was at home in Cairo when the verdict was announced.
"This judgment opens the gates of hell for the Egyptian press and confirms the state's hostile position towards freedom of opinion and expression," he told AFP by telephone.
"The big problem is that we are faced with a failing regime which reacts in a schizophrenic way. The regime doesn't stop talking about freedom of the press and jails journalists" at the same time.
"This verdict isn't just about freedom of the press and freedom in this country. This proves that anything concerning the president is a sacred and untouchable matter.
"In this country it's normal for journalists to be jailed while businessmen are freed," he said, in apparent reference to the acquittal in August of five defendants over a 2006 ferry sinking in which more than 1,000 people died.
Eissa said he had spoken to the head of the journalists' union, Makram Mohammed Ahmed, who said that he would ask the prosecutor to delay carrying out the sentence.
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's first trial had been due to be heard before a state security court where he would have had no right of appeal, but it eventually took place in an ordinary court after what the journalists' union called regime backpedalling.
The charge against him stemmed from accusations that his reports on Mubarak's health last August led investors to pull their money out of Egypt.
Eissa was accused of harming the economy after the rumours allegedly caused foreign investors to withdraw investments worth more than 350 million dollars from the stock exchange.
Speculation about Mubarak was widely reported in Egypt's independent press and included reports of his hospitalisation, travel abroad for treatment and even his 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 rumours about the 80-year-old president.
The crackdown prompted 23 papers to suspend publication for a day in protest.
In February, an Al-Jazeera journalist sentenced to six months over a film highlighting torture in Egyptian police stations had her sentence reduced to a fine.
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.
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