[JURIST] The trial of controversial al-Dustour [media website] editor Ibrahim Eissa [al-Ahram profile] on charges of allegedly spreading "rumors" about the health of Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak [official profile] in an August newspaper report began in Cairo Monday. Eissa chose not to appear for the beginning of his trial, but told reporters that "[t]he whole political society feels the danger of a state that is laying an ambush against journalists and freedom of expression." Last June, Eissa was sentenced [JURIST report] to one year in prison for publishing a report critical of Mubarak, but an appeals court reduced the sentence to a $4,000 fine. Monday's trial was adjourned after opening remarks, and is scheduled to resume on October 24. Eissa faces up to three years in jail if found guilty. AP has more.
Under Egyptian law, citizens may file lawsuits against individuals who make statements that harm society, and the accused can face criminal punishment if found guilty. Last month, a court sentenced the editors of four tabloids [JURIST report] for publishing criticisms of Mubarak and the ruling National Democratic Party. Many rights groups have criticized Egypt in recent years for its stance on freedom of expression. Last week, the Bush administration, in commenting on a recent order by the Egypt government mandating the closure of the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid [advocacy website], expressed concern about "setbacks on press freedom and civil society" in Egypt, calling recent decisions a "contradiction" of the Egyptian government's "stated commitment to expand democratic rights." Mubarak has previously pledged to decriminalize press offenses [JURIST report], but has yet to do so.