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Egypt court overturns defamation sentence for rights activist

[JURIST] An Egyptian court on Monday overturned the conviction of dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim [professional profile] on charges related to defaming Egypt. Ibrahim, founder of the Ibn Khaldoun Centre for Development Studies [academic website], has been a prominent human rights activist and outspoken critic of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak [BBC profile]. A dual US and Egyptian citizen, he was accused of defaming Egypt by criticizing its human rights practices and politics, left the country, and was tried and convicted in absentia. The court held [Al Arabiya report] that the charges were without merit, reasoning that the charges should have been filed by the attorney general since they related to the country's international political standing and reputation. The decision overturns a two-year jail sentence [JURIST report] imposed against Ibrahim and will allow him to return to Egypt to see his family.

Last year, the US State Department [official website] criticized [JURIST report] Egypt's sentencing of Ibrahim and advocated the protection of civil and political rights. 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.

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