CAIRO: Under the title “No to imprisoning journalists, Al Ghad party organized a conference Monday to show solidarity with the four newspaper editors charged with insulting President Hosni Mubarak, his son and the ruling party.
According to convicted editor Abd Al-Halim Kandil, they were also charged with insulting the Prime Minister and the Interior Minister.
The editors of the country’s most popular independent newspapers were sentenced to one year in jail and fined LE 20,000 each. The four editors are Adel Hammouda of Al-Fajr weekly, Ibrahim Eissa, editor of Al-Dostour daily, Wael Al-Ibrashy, editor of Sout Al-Omah weekly, and Abdel Halim Kandil, former editor of Al-Karama newspaper.
All four remain free until their appeal after paying LE 10,000 bail.
Human rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have condemned the jail sentences.
People attending the conference did not view the court ruling as an isolated incident. “Yesterday it was Ayman Nour, today it is Eissa, Kandil and Al-Ibrashy – whose turn will it be tomorrow? participants asked, suggesting that it is part of a wider crackdown on the opposition.
Independent newspapers have become more vocal in their criticism of the government and its officials over the past few years.
“The attack started when they captured Ayman Nour, the attack started when they arrested Essam El Erian, and the attack is far from over, said socialist activist Kamal Khalil at the conference.
The speakers linked the “deteriorating status of freedom of expression in Egypt to the overall state of freedom in the political scene. “Press freedom is a right, and this country will not be liberated without press freedom, said Ehab El Khouly, Al Ghad party leader.
Echoing similar sentiments, a member of Kefaya known as El Hagga Zeinab said, “We are against silencing journalists. The people need to know the truth. The truth won’t be reported by state-owned newspapers.
Kandil began his speech with a joke that ironically emphasized the direness of the legal problem he is facing. “Ayman Nour and I are from the same city, El Mansoura, and now we’re going to be from the same prison, Tora prison.
Kandil stressed the importance of having a law that allows criticism of government officials, similar to press laws that exist in all free countries. “Egypt has only one symbol, the Egyptian flag. The president is not a symbol, he is a government employee.
This is not the first time Kandil’s writing has landed him in trouble. He found himself in another predicament after publishing a number of articles attacking the president. During the month of Ramadan in 2004, he says he was kidnapped from the street by his house at 3 am. He was startled by a speeding car that came to a screeching halt in front of him. Then, he was blindfolded and pushed by four men into the backseat.
During the ride, he recalled, he felt sharp objects being pressed into the left side of his face as the men threatened him saying, “so that you don’t do that again. They then left him stranded naked in the Moqattam hills.
The speakers, who came from different political backgrounds, said a coalition must be created with members from the entire political spectrum to “transform the call for change into a power capable of building.
Al Ghad leader Ehab El Khouly said, “Everything is related, the freedom of university activism, the freedom to gather, and all kinds of freedom . it all comes down to liberating the Egyptian tongue.”