(AFP) – Oct 1, 2007
CAIRO (AFP) — The trial of an outspoken Egyptian editor accused of writing rumours about President Hosni Mubarak's health began on Monday and was swiftly ajourned to later this month amid an ongoing press clampdown.
The trial of Ibrahim Eissa, editor-in-chief of Al-Dustur daily, had been slated for a state security court with no right of appeal, but opened in an ordinary court after what the journalists' union called regime backpedalling.
The session was adjourned until October 24 to allow the defence time to study the charge of spreading "false information ... damaging the public interest and national stability." He faces up to three years in prison.
The charge stems from accusations that Eissa's reports on Mubarak's health in August allegedly led investors to pull their money out of Egypt. The prosecution said it would call the heads of the stock exchange and the central bank as witnesses.
"This trial is one of freedom of the press not of Ibrahim Eissa," the editor told AFP after the hearing, which he did not attend.
At least seven journalists have been given custodial sentences so far this month on charges ranging from misquoting Egypt's justice minister to reporting rumours that Mubarak was sick.
Eissa pointed out that the president's health would be raised at each court hearing, "meaning that those who brought the case want his health to be discussed."
As with other trials of journalists, the case against Eissa has been brought by a private individual since Egyptian law allows citizens to lodge complaints which can then lead to criminal convictions.
Eissa is now the target of eight such private cases, something he called "proof of the judicial farce" being played out against him.
"I hope the case will be decided in accordance with the law and that jailing journalists will be a red line -- even if I have no faith in this regime," said the editor.
Human rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim said last week that members of the ruling National Democratic Party were bringing the cases against journalists, though not officially via the NDP.
"Now the regime has learned this new tactic -- instead of pursuing someone directly, it gets citizens who are part of their own ruling junta to file complaints," the Daily Star newspaper quoted Saad Eddin Ibrahim as saying.
Faced with the clampdown, editors from 15 opposition and independent newspapers have said they will not publish editions on October 7 in a protest action.
The harsh treatment of the Egyptian media led the United States last week to voice "deep concern" at the convictions, a criticism rejected by key regional ally Egypt as "unacceptable interference".
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