(IPI/IFEX) - In a 21 June 2001 letter to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, IPI strongly condemned the criminal charges brought against Mamduh Mahran, chief editor of the independent newspapers "Al-Nabaa" and "Akhir Khabar", and Wahid Ghazi, editor-in-chief of "Al-Muwajaha" newspaper.
According to IPI sources, Mahran was detained by Egyptian police and interrogated by the state prosecution service on 17 June. He was released two days later after paying a bail bond of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (approx. US$2,570). The state prosecution is reportedly charging Mahran on several counts, including disturbing the peace, publishing items about a religious group that could lead to public contempt, religious sedition and printing indecent images. If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison.
The charges against Mahran stem from front-page articles in the 17 June editions of "Al-Nabaa" and "Akhir Khabar", in which a Coptic Christian monk was purportedly shown in a photo with a naked woman and described as first having sexual intercourse with women and then extorting them. The former monk in question had been excommunicated by the Coptic Church in 1996 and is being investigated by the state prosecution. The photos in the articles were taken from a videotape which had reportedly already been circulated in Upper Egypt for 100 Egyptian pounds (approx. US$26) a copy. Apparently, security forces had seized copies of the tape and then a copy had made its way to "Al-Nabaa", either by black market purchase or through a leak in the state security forces.
Aside from the charges against Mahran, the authorities have seized 1,000 issues of the two newspapers, the newspapers have been shut down temporarily and the Coptic Church has filed a libel suit against the newspapers. The Syndicate of Journalists is reportedly planning to take measures against "sensationalist" newspapers in response to this case, and, together with the Egyptian Press Council, it has reportedly decided to take legal action to suspend Mahran's publishing license.
In a separate case, Wahid Ghazi is also being charged for printing unethical photos. The authorities have seized around 600 copies of the 12 June and 19 June issues of "Al-Muwajaha" newspaper.
IPI regards the incarceration of journalists, the seizure of newspapers and the suspension of media outlets as gross violations of everyone's right to "seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers" as guaranteed by Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Send appeals to the president:
- urging him to ensure that the planned criminal charges against Mahran and Ghazi are dropped immediately and unconditionally
- stating that there are ample means of redress in a civil court or through non-prohibitive media self-regulation
- requesting that he ensure that "Al-Nabaa", "Akhir Khabar" and "Al-Muwajaha" are allowed to resume publishing unhindered and that Egypt's journalists are allowed to carry out their profession without further harassment
His Excellency Hosni Mubarak
Please copy appeals to the source if possible.