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EGYPT: Editor Ibrahim Issa sentenced to prison

September 28, 2008 |  9:15 am

Issa_4 One of Egypt’s most outspoken newspaper editors was sentenced to two months in prison today for publishing rumors in 2007 that President Hosni Mubarak was ill and near death.

Ibrahim Issa, a bespectacled editor with a sharp tongue, said he was ready to begin his jail term. It wasn’t clear when that might occur; the Journalists Syndicate has filed a petition asking that the sentence be delayed until the case has been heard by Egypt’s highest appeals court.

“The verdict opens the door of hell,” said Issa. “It deals a blow to all illusions of a free press.”

The editor of the independent Al Dustour, Issa is a colorful, puckish critic of Mubarak’s nearly 27-year regime and of the ruling National Democratic Party. His writing has chafed the business and political elite for years, and his time has often been divided between his editor’s office and Cairo’s musty courtrooms.

Issa articles in 2007 suggested that Mubarak’s health was deteriorating, that he slipped into comas and that he traveled to France for medical treatment. Issa was charged with “publishing false information and rumors” that threatened national security and spurred an investor flight of hundreds of millions of dollars from the Egyptian economy.

The government denied Mubarak was ailing. Issa was found guilty in March and sentenced to six months in prison. A lower appeals court reduced that to two months. The sentence indicates, however, that the degree of freedom the independent media have enjoyed in recent years may be over.

The government is sensitive about portrayals of its frail 80-year-old leader and coverage of growing discord over inflation, poverty and corruption within the ruling party. Bloggers and cyberspace activists have been jailed. The nation’s chief prosecutor recently put a gag order on the media not to cover the case of a Hisham Talaat Mustafa, a real estate billionaire and member of parliament accused ordering the slaying of a Lebanese pop diva.

— Jeffrey Fleishman and Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo

Photo: Ibrahim Issa

Credit: Associated Press

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