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EGYPT: Court gags media in diva murder trial

November 17, 2008 |  7:17 am

Suzanne_tamimWhile reporters from local and international news organizations crammed into a Cairo courtroom over the weekend to cover the trial of an Egyptian real estate mogul implicated in the killing of a Lebanese singer, the judge announced a media blackout.

Justice El-Mohamadi Qunsowa said the ban on trial coverage was ordered to keep the media from infringing upon the court’s jurisdiction in the case of Hisham Talaat Mustafa. The multi-millionaire is accused of hiring a former cop to murder his ex-girlfriend, the troubled diva Suzanne Tamim, whose body was found in a Dubai apartment last summer.

The case has attracted nonstop media attention since the arrest of Mustafa in September. The coverage carried serious political overtones as the defendant is a prominent member of the ruling party and a member of parliament. Some media outlets led campaigns contending that the case exposed the corruption of Egypt's political and business elite. This was countered by a book written by a lawyer claiming that Mustafa is innocent.

Hisham_talaat_mostafa_3_2 The court's gag order outraged journalists. The press syndicate released a statement calling on the judge to reconsider the ban. “For the sake of freedom of the press and public interest, [the syndicate] hopes that the court will reconsider this decision while holding to its right of imposing all measures that ensure a coverage that serves justice,” said the statement posted on the syndicate’s website.

“The syndicate’s board also calls on all media and fellow journalists covering the case to stop making judgments to acquit or convict the defendants,” added the statement.   

“I understand the judge’s motives,” the head of the Press Syndicate, Makram Mohammed Ahmed, told the private satellite station Mehwar TV last night. “In fact, some media crossed the limit of disseminating information to making judgments and answering questions that only the court had the right to answer. However, banning all press coverage is not the solution at all.”

Prominent TV host Mona El-Shazly expressed her disappointment with the court’s order in her widely watched daily news talk show “10 O’Clock,” saying: “This was a message to condemn all media.... We are only claiming the people’s right to know what is happening inside the courtroom.” 

— Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo

Photo: At top, Tamim, shown posing for a photo shoot in Egypt, was found dead in the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai on July 28.

Below: Mustafa. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

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