CAIRO: The North Giza Criminal Court on Sunday adjourned till Sept. 19 the case filed by Egypt’s Minister of Finance against the editor-in-chief of independent newspaper Sawt Al-Umma.
Wael El-Ebrashi and Samar El-Dawi, a reporter at the same newspaper, were accused by Minister of Finance Youssef Boutros Ghali of inciting public opinion against a controversial real estate tax bill that was first proposed by Ghali in 2008.
If proven guilty, both journalists could be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison based on article 177 of the penal code.
“In his statement, Wael El-Ebrashi maintained the same position,” Journalists’ Syndicate board member Abeer Saady told Daily News Egypt about the first hearing.
An outspoken critic of the Egyptian government at the hearing El-Ebrashi argued that by launching a campaign against the new bill he was only exercising his right to freedom of expression.
He also denied allegations that he intended to incite public opinion against the law.
“The courtroom was full of supporters of Wael El-Ebrashi, chanting for freedom of expression and against the new real estate tax bill,” said Saady.
The court also saw a high turnout of journalists and lawyers in support of El-Ebrashi.
Saady explained that security tried to stop civilian supporters from entering the courtroom but that El-Ebrashi insisted that everyone be allowed in before the beginning of the trial.
“He was very touched,” said Saady.
Prior to the trial, supporters of El-Ebrashi gathered in front of the General Prosecutor’s office protesting the trial.
In August 2009, Ghali announced that the tax would be imposed on some residential and commercial properties as of 2010, to much criticism.
Houses and apartments worth less than LE 500,000 are exempt from the tax, while property worth LE 1 million would be taxed LE 660 annually.
At the time, Ghali claimed that the newspaper’s campaign negatively affected the number of submitted tax reports.
“Our profession aims at resisting injustice. … We can never incite people to break the law,” El-Ebrashi previously told Daily News Egypt.
El-Ebrashi had been subject to several other trials before.
In January 2009, the court decided to strike out a one-year jail term handed down against him and three other editors earlier in 2007 for “publishing false information that is likely to disturb the public order.”
El-Ebrashi and his colleagues were ordered to pay a LE 20,000 fine instead. –Additional reporting by Marwa Al-A’sar