[JURIST] A judge in an Egyptian court Saturday convicted a prominent human rights activist and outspoken critic of President Hosni Mubarak in absentia of defaming Egypt and sentenced him to two years in prison. Saad Eddin Ibrahim [profile], a dual US and Egyptian citizen who is a professor of sociology at the American University in Cairo and who founded the Ibn Khaldoun Centre for Development Studies [academic websites] in Egypt, had been accused of defaming Egypt by criticizing its human rights practices and politics. Following the accusations, he decided to leave Egypt in 2007, writing [text] in the Washington Post:
Sadly, this regime has strayed so far from the rule of law that, for my own safety, I have been warned not to return to Egypt. Regime insiders and those in Cairo's diplomatic circles have said that I will be arrested or worse. My family is worried, knowing that Egypt's jails contain some 80,000 political prisoners and that disappearances are routinely ignored or chalked up to accidents. My fear is that these abuses will spread if Egypt's allies and friends continue to stand by silently while this regime suppresses the country's democratic reformers.
Ibrahim reportedly agreed to return to Egypt if he received assurances that he would not be immediately arrested. The judge Saturday said that Ibrahim could pay 10,000 Egyptian pounds ($1,890 USD) for bail, and that he would have the opportunity to appeal. Reuters has more. AFP has additional coverage.
In recent months, public critics of Egyptian government policies have been the target of multiple lawsuits for publicly discussing sensitive issues. In April, the former editor of weekly newspaper al-Dustour [media website, in Arabic] was sentenced to six months in prison [JURIST report] after being convicted on charges of spreading "rumors" about the health of President Mubarak in an August newspaper report. Last year, two journalists were convicted in absentia of libel [JURIST report] for writing a story about an illegal land transaction from 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.