CAIRO: Local press and human rights organizations are still fuming over the one-year prison sentence handed to an Al-Masry Al-Youm journalist. Opposition and independent newspapers are vowing to relentlessly support their associate, calling on President Hosni Mubarak to immediately intervene.
“The verdict is unjust, Abdel-Nasser Al-Zoheiry, the sentenced journalist, tells the The Daily Star Egypt. “I have been indicted through a crooked law; an unfair law. Reporters should strive to change it.
Al-Zoheiry, whose case is still unfolding, was part of a team of three writers who were sentenced to prison less than a year ago for allegedly slandering Egypt’s former housing minister Ibrahim Suleiman in a news story.
The three journalists had taken their case to the cassation court for appeal, supported by their newspaper and blessed by the press syndicate. The reporters refuted the allegations of slander, saying that they had three inside sources to support the information in their published work. The reporters refused to reveal their sources in court, saying it would “tarnish [their] reputation as journalists and tear down the trust their sources have in [them].
When it first surfaced two years ago, the case drew the attention of the international community. In particular human rights groups who wrote multiple letters addressed to Egypt’s president and general prosecution, reminding the former of his promises of freedom and reform.
Protests have taken place in response to the case.
Two years ago and on the same date Al-Zoheiry was sentenced, Mubarak called for an amendment to the law legalizing the imprisonment of reporters. The newspapers journalists in question had hoped that on “the anniversary of the President’s promise to abolish this law they would gain their freedom.
“It was the same day last year that President Mubarak promised to prohibit the imprisonment of reporters. Maybe they want Feb.23 this year to be the day when the promise is fulfilled and they remove the charges against us, Alaa Al-Ghatrify, one of the three journalists charged, had told The Daily Star Egypt, a few weeks preceding the sentencing of their colleague.
Al-Ghatrify said he was shocked when he heard the sentence against his associate, deeming the verdict “mysterious and strange.
“We wrote one story together, said Al-Ghatrify. “Yet two of us are pardoned and one is sentenced to prison. It was one single story whose byline we shared.
According to Al-Ghatrify, the pardoned reporters should not even be fined. “A colleague and I were proven innocent, so why pass fines on us, said Al-Ghatrify. The three journalists were fined LE 10,000 for “defaming a public figure.
Meanwhile, Al-Zoheiry has not turned himself in. The sentenced reporter remains in hiding occasionally visiting the newspaper office but never his own house.
“I am threatened, says Al-Zoheiry. “I can be arrested any time now. Even if I appeal, it will not be a smooth ride and I will probably spend the whole year in prison while the cassation takes its time to review my sentence.
The editor, Magdy Al-Galad, had announced that the newspaper would pay the fines on behalf of their writers while denying any rumors claiming the three reporters are ready to apologize to the minister. “No reporter should be humiliated as such. Imprisonment is a far better honor, the editor told the press.
Al-Zoheiry said that he, no matter the pressure, will not apologize to the minister in question. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I printed the truth.
Talks of negotiations between the press syndicate and Suleiman, the former minister, were confirmed by El-Galad. “There are public figures currently mediating between the two parties: the press syndicate that represents all prosecuted journalists and editors on one hand and Ibrahim Suleiman on the other, said Al-Galad. “We can accept [this kind of] reconciliation and a dialogue is already in process.
Al-Zoheiry says that he was not surprised by the sentence against him. Before the final trial, “the minister’s lawyer confirmed to me that I would be detained . So I quickly left the court before it was in order, claims the journalist.
Al-Zoheiry remains enthusiastic and hopes, like many of his associates, that the president will intervene to help him. “This is my wish; that the president will personally give me a pardon.
More than 10 local human rights groups have published reports concerning Al-Zoheiry’s case. According to human rights activists, all concerned groups are due to meet on March 3 to protest the sentence and call for the abolishment of any law that oppresses writers and journalists. The judges club also supports the cause, saying that on “the anniversary of the president’s promise, freedom should be the president’s gift to the journalists.
Al-Masri Al-Youm published a letter addressed to Mubarak. “When we first received your promise, we cried [in joy] and hailed it, falsely thinking that it was our goodbye to prison cells and long trials where we stood behind bars side-by-side with killers, rapists and drug dealers, the newspaper letter read. “However, days passed; the vow and the promise disappeared.