CAIRO: The North Giza Criminal Court on Sunday adjourned to Oct. 17 the case filed by the Minister of Finance against editor-in-chief of independent newspaper Sawt Al-Umma Wael El-Ebrashy, accused of inciting the public against the property tax law.
El-Ebrashy and Samar El-Dawi, a reporter at the same newspaper, were accused by Minister of Finance Youssef Boutros-Ghali of “stirring up the public to disobey the law.”
Earlier this year, El-Dawi launched a press campaign entitled: “Sawt Al-Umma calls on you to take part in its campaign to boycott the real estate bill … Send us powers of attorney to legally protect you … We will not present our [tax] reports … and we will not pay the … tax.”
“We [wrote] what the people [thought] in a journalistic and professional manner when we [dedicated] the newspaper pages to lawyers, constitutional law experts, politicians, intellectuals and [citizens] to express their stance towards a tax related to one of the most important parts of life: housing,” El-Ebrashi said in his defense at the time.
During the hearing, the defense team called on judge Emile Habashy to include in the case file the minutes of the People’s Assembly sessions during which the draft law was discussed, to prove that several MPs expressed concerns similar to El-Ebrashy’s.
“[A number of] MPs debated the constitutionality of the law, arguing that it would have a negative impact of lower income classes,” defense team member Hafez Abu Saeda told Daily News Egypt.
“That is why we called for the testimonies of these MPs or at least the minutes of the PA sessions,” Abu Saeda, also the secretary general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), added.
If proven guilty, both journalists could be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison based on Article 177 of the penal code.
“This is the first time that this article is applied on a publishing case. It has only been adopted in prosecuting militant groups or secret organizations for charges like inciting disobedience and attempting to overthrow the regime,” El-Ebrashy previously told Daily News Egypt.
In the previous hearing held on July 18, El-Ebrashy denied the allegations that he deliberately intended to incite public opinion against the law.
Since it was first proposed by Ghali in 2008, the real estate tax law has triggered widespread controversy.