The detainees, among them scores of the country's most prominent lawyers, academics, and journalists, were charged with fomenting sedition and undermining the regime's stability and violating its "Law of Shame," which made it illegal to spread rumors likely to damage the state.
Four editors are due to appear before two Cairo appeal courts
later this month for defaming President Hosni Mubarak and his top aides and spreading
rumors about the aging president's health. Surely, they must have in the back
of their minds the ominous crackdown on the media and political dissenters that
The first court hearing--scheduled for September 6--stems from a case filed about two years ago against the four outspoken newspaper editors for allegedly defaming President Hosni Mubarak and his top aides, including his son and likely heir Gamal. Ibrahim Eissa of the daily Al-Dustour, Adel Hamouda of the weekly Al-Fagr, Wael el-Abrashi, former editor of Sawt Al-Umma, and Abdel Halim Kandil, former editor of the weekly Al Karama were sentenced by a minor court on September 13, 2007, to one year in prison and to pay a fine of 20,000 Egyptian pounds (US$3,700) each.
The court ruling came as a chilling reminder of the
government's mounting determination to settle scores with the country's most
critical journalists since 2003. Although the media is less stifled in
"There are brave journalists in
This notorious lawsuit was filed by two lawyers affiliated
with the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), which is headed by Mubarak and
increasingly influenced by his son Gamal. One of the most outspoken victims of
these ensnaring lawsuits, so obviously aimed at silencing critics of Mubarak's
autocratic 27-year rule through tortuous ways, is Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a
well-known Egyptian American sociologist and democracy advocate. Ibrahim, who
is currently facing five other similar cases, was sentenced in absentia in August
to two years in prison for harming
Eissa, like Ibrahim, is on the list of the government's top
enemies. He says that even in the face of such oppression, "
"It is obvious that those who are defending the ruling National Democratic Party and its symbolic figures have not read the history of the press, which enhanced freedom of opinion and expression," Abderahman said. She gave amazing examples of court rulings acquitting journalists more critical of the ruling figures under British colonial occupation during the first half of the 20th century than the four editors sued by Mubarak's supporters.
The second politically motivated lawsuit--scheduled for
September 28--involves only Eissa, who, despite 10 years of unrelenting judicial
harassment and police intimidation, remains continuously defiant and critical
of Mubarak's uninterrupted grip on power since October 1981. The
Many fear that the judiciary, the total independence of which remains to be gained from the executive branch, would be used to teach a lesson to Egypt's independent journalists by sending Eissa to jail at the end of September, which coincides this year with the end of the lunar and holy Muslim month of Ramadan. However, they maintain that the four editors (including Eissa) involved in the first case might not be sent to jail, because at least two of them are not thought to be on the list of the government's top enemies.
First Lady Suzanne Mubarak, whom Eissa portrayed as the country's most influential figure after Mubarak, said in early September 2007 that those who spread rumors about her husband's "excellent health" should be punished.
Even though Mubarak publicly promised four years ago to pass a law that would end the imprisonment of journalists for doing their job, the rising number of jail sentences since 2004 handed to journalists, coupled with Egypt's leading role in the region in muzzling radio and TV broadcasting, does not leave much room for optimism. But the determination of independent journalists and bloggers to keep up the struggle for freedom of expression, however costly it may be, must be reckoned with.