[JURIST] Egypt's Agouza Appeals Court Saturday overturned the prison sentences of four newspaper editors convicted of defaming President Hosni Mubarak [official website] and the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) [party website]. The four men, Ibrahim Eissa, editor of Al Dustour; Adel Hammouda, editor of Al-Fagr [media websites, in Arabic]; Wael Al-Abrashi, editor of the independent newspaper Sawt Al-Umma; and Abdel-Halim Qandil, former editor of Al-Karama, were convicted [JURIST report] in 2007 and were each sentenced to a year in prison and ordered to pay fines of approximately $3600. The appeals court upheld the fines against the men, and both Amnesty International (AI) [press release] and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information [press release] issued statements Saturday saying the fines should also be lifted. In its release, AI wrote:
We are relieved that the four editors prison sentences have been overturned but the imposition of heavy fines and the prospect of trials on vaguely worded charges constitute unacceptable obstacles to freedom of the press in Egypt...The men have been free on bail since their conviction, and have said they will continue to appeal the fines.
We call on the Egyptian authorities to stop using the press law to muzzle freedom of speech and to recognize the important role a free and independent press in any society.
Eissa had earlier received a two-month prison sentence for spreading "rumors" about the health of Mubarak, as well as a third sentence [JURIST reports] of a year in prison for a separate report. In October 2007 , two journalists were convicted of libel in absentia [JURIST report] for writing a story about an illegal land transaction involving the Ministry of Religious Endowments at a secret auction. 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. Mubarak previously pledged to decriminalize press offenses [JURIST report] in Egypt, but has yet to do so.