No less than eleven journalists, including four editors of prominent opposition newspapers, have been brought to court in Egypt in recent weeks. They stand accused of disparaging members of the government and President Hosni Mubarak.
When handing down the sentences three-and-a-half weeks ago, the judge said that the newspapers had written that the governing party was ruling the country in a dictatorial manner. Each of the four editors received a one-year jail term and a fine of approximately € 2,500. They have been released on bail of € 1,300.
Over 20 independent Egyptian newspapers reacted to the ruling by organising a boycott as an act of solidarity with the journalists. As a result, newspapers such as Al-Masri al-Youm, Nahdet Masr, Al-Wafd, Sout al-Umma, Al-Fagr, and Al-Isboa were not published last Sunday, 7 October 2007.
"War against press freedom"
According to Gamal Fahmi, member of the board of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate, the Mubarak regime is increasingly taking drastic measures to intimidate or even silence critical members of the media in order to safeguard its position of power.
Fahmi goes on to say that free elections and the rotation of power are unknown in Egypt and that Mubarak has been ruling by police force for 26 years. "What we have been witnessing recently is a genuine war against press freedom," says Fahmi. He says that it is quite possible that one-quarter of all journalists in Egypt will be behind bars in a few weeks time.
Ibrahim Eissa, editor-in-chief of the Egyptian weekly newspaper Al-Dustour, has already been convicted. However, he is also involved in a second court case because prosecutors claim that his speculation about President Mubarak's state of health scared off foreign investors. They say that his speculation has caused US$ 350 million in damage to the Egyptian economy.
Despite the fact that he could be sentenced to up to three years in prison, Eissa is defiant: "There is no such thing as a sacred Prime Minister, no such thing as a sacred First Lady. They are not pharaohs or kings, they are not a ruling family. I will not be silent; I have already done time in prison."
© Jürgen Stryjak 2007
Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan