[JURIST] The US State Department [official website] on Monday criticized Egypt's sentencing [JURIST report] of Saad Eddin Ibrahim [professional profile] to two years in prison for defaming the country. Ibrahim has been a prominent human rights activist and outspoken critic of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak [official profile], and has dual US and Egyptian citizenship. He is a professor of sociology at the American University in Cairo and founded the Ibn Khaldoun Centre for Development Studies [academic websites] in Egypt, but left the country because of the charges and was tried in absentia. On his trial and sentencing, a spokesman for the State Department said:
We are disappointed by the recent conviction in Egypt of democracy activist Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim. On August 2, Dr. Ibrahim was convicted of harming Egypt’s reputation through his writings in the foreign press and was sentenced to two years in prison. Lawsuits should not be used to undermine the principles of freedom of expression. We strongly advocate – in all countries – the protection of civil and political rights, including freedom of speech and due process.
Ibrahim has said he will only return to the country if he is promised that he will not be arrested, and the Egyptian government has said that if he returns he may post bail to avoid imprisonment while he appeals the conviction. AFP has more. BBC News 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 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.