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Freedom of expression on the line: a look back at 2007 - Daily News Egypt

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Freedom of expression on the line: a look back at 2007

The year 2007 was a bumpy ride for Egyptian media professionals, marking a significant upsurge in clampdowns on freedom of expression, with editors, bloggers, and activists paying a high price for voicing their views on sensitive political and religious issues. Ironically, the broader margin of freedom given to the independent press had led to hostile …


The year 2007 was a bumpy ride for Egyptian media professionals, marking a significant upsurge in clampdowns on freedom of expression, with editors, bloggers, and activists paying a high price for voicing their views on sensitive political and religious issues. Ironically, the broader margin of freedom given to the independent press had led to hostile coverage against which the authorities hit back, leading to criticism by international rights groups and causing Egypt to slide to the bottom rankings in major indexes measuring freedom of expression around the world.In May the Washington-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) designated Egypt as one of the world’s worst backsliders on press freedom.Arrests, detainment, and imprisonment of Internet bloggers, newspaper editors and journalists, as well as bizarre cases of libel and defamation involving head judges are all part of Daily News Egypt’s roundup of attacks on freedom of expression in 2007.The year opened with the sentencing of blogger Kareem Amer to four years in prison in February, which sparked a fury among civil society activists and an outcry by the international media. A critic of Al-Azhar and the government, Amer was jailed for insulting Islam and President Hosni Mubarak on his blog. The case marks the first time Egypt applies a prison sentence on a cyber dissident.In April, security officials at the Cairo Airport arrested Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated journalist and blogger Abdel Moneim Mahmoud to catch a flight to Sudan to report on human rights in the Arab world for a London-based satellite channel.An outspoken critic of the Egyptian government and an avid anti-torture activist, Mahmoud was charged with belonging to a banned group and defaming the government. He was held at various facilities including Tora prison for approximately one month before being released.In late November, another Brotherhood-affiliated blogger and activist Ahmed Mohsen was reportedly arrested in El Fayyoum along with a number of members of the group. Mohsen is believed to be among the first to expose an alleged crime of torture and police abuse in his native town by contacting media outlets in Cairo and urging bloggers to write on the case. A number of Arab and Egyptian bloggers who refer to themselves as “The Arab Bloggers Union recently started an online campaign in support of Mohsen. In April, head judge of the Alexandria Court of Appeals, Abdel Fattah Mourad, filed a lawsuit against 51 websites belonging to prominent Egyptian human rights organizations and bloggers demanding their shutdown on the basis that they “tarnish the reputation of the Egyptian government. The case, also referred to as the “51 websites trial evolved shortly after the Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRInfo) accused Judge Mourad of violating the organization’s intellectual property rights by allegedly including 50 pages of an its report on Internet blogging in his own book without citing sources or including references. According to HRInfo, a verdict was supposed to be issued on Dec. 8.In a separate lawsuit, the judge reportedly accused HRInfo Director Gamal Eid and Ahmed Seif, Director of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, of blackmail.On World Press Freedom Day (May 2), Cairo Criminal Court ironically sentenced Al-Jazeera journalist Howaida Taha to six months in prison for “possessing and giving false pictures about the internal situation in Egypt that could undermine the dignity of the country. Taha had been working on a documentary film about torture in Egypt and was stopped and stripped of her video tapes and computer at Cairo airport in early January as she tried to board a flight to Qatar. In September, four editors of opposition and independent newspapers – Adel Hamouda, editor of the weekly Al-Fagr, Wael Al-Ibrashi, of the weekly Sawt Al-Umma, Abdel Halim Qandil, former editor of the weekly Al-Karama, and Ibrahim Eissa, editor of the daily Al-Dostour – were sentenced to one year in prison and a LE 20,000 fine for “publishing false information likely to disturb public order. According to a report issued by CPJ, the case was initiated by a lawyer affiliated with the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) who accused the editors of defaming government officials and spreading false information.The sentences were announced on the heels of charges made in August against Eissa by the state security general prosecutor for spreading rumors “likely to disturb public security and damage the public interest following the publication of a series of articles in Al-Dostour that questioned the health of President Mubarak. Around the same time, Al-Wafd editor-in-chief Anwar Al-Hawari, deputy editor Mahmoud Ghalab, and the newspaper’s politics editor Amir Salem were convicted on libel charges filed by 11 lawyers reportedly affiliated with the NDP. They received two-year prison sentences each but are free on appeal. In response to September’s “mass sentencing of editors and journalists, numerous opposition and independent newspapers partook in a non-publishing strike on Oct. 8 as a gesture of solidarity with the convicted editors and journalists. In late October, Al-Hawari was reportedly convicted in absentia by a criminal court in Assiut along with Mahmoud Abaza, the chairman of the board of the newspaper, and reporter Younes Darwish on charges of libeling two lawyers in an article.Also in late October, Coptic human rights activist and blogger Hala El-Masry, also known as Hala Helmy Botros, claimed to have been subjected to temporary arrest by the police in Qena governorate following alleged harassment by state security.El-Masry previously told Daily News Egypt that the harassment was a direct result of a report on religious freedom in Egypt issued by the US Congress in which there is a reference to her name. A few weeks ago, activist and Award-winning blogger Wael Abbas argued that “an electronic war is being fought against him following the decision of video-sharing giant YouTube to disable his account because of user complaints about the “brutal content of his “torture videos. Abbas’s yahoo email account was reportedly shut down around the same time of the disabling of his YouTube site.Most recently, Sawt Al-Umma’s El Ibrashi appeared in a Cairo court on Dec. 10 on six charges of insult and defamation filed by businessmen and company managers following a series of articles on alleged “infringements in the companies.

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