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Detained journalist begins hunger strike

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an IFJ press release:

IFJ Calls on Egypt to Free Jailed Journalists After Book Fair Censorship Sparks Free Expression Fears

The International Federation of Journalists today accused the Egyptian authorities of censorship and intimidation of independent journalism after a crackdown on activists working at the Cairo International Book Fair.

This week a detained journalist began a hunger strike in protest following his arrest and detention along with other activists after a police raid on the book fair on January 28.

"The bullying and intimidation of opposition writers and journalists is intolerable," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "It reflects a general hostility to free expression that runs contrary to the growing movement for democracy and human rights in the Middle East."

The IFJ has expressed its full support for the Egyptian Syndicate of Journalists, which is calling for the release of Ibrahim El Sahary, a journalist working for socialist Al Alam Al Youm Newspaper, who was beaten up by police when arrested for circulating "anti-government propaganda."

Also arrested was Ayman Nour, a legally-trained Member of Parliament, head of the new liberal Al Ghad Opposition Party and a journalist with the new Al Ghad daily newspaper. Both men are being temporarily held in custody.

On January 28 police arrested a number of activists at the Cairo International Book Fair and charged them with disseminating false propaganda against the government. Two days later they confiscated copies of a recent publication, Socialists' route to change: a militant socialist vision for change in Egypt, and copies of a magazine produced by the Centre for Socialist Studies, even though those publications are legally produced.

"It is impossible not to see this as an act of intimidation against all those who are struggling to put forward alternative opinions about the future of democracy in Egypt," said White.

He said the IFJ was particularly concerned for El Sahary, who started a hunger strike on Monday and is held over a statement he was circulating that had been signed by hundreds of public figures. The IFJ says he was brutally treated by police and required medical treatment.

The Egyptian Syndicate is calling on the Minister of Justice, Mahmoud Abou El-Leil, and Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif to enact the law that forbids the jailing of journalists, as promised by President Mubarak a year ago.

"It's time for change in Egypt," said White. "The days when bullying, intimidation and censorship were the routine ways of dealing with independent journalism are over. Free expression must be guaranteed for all."

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries.

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