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EGYPT: Uproar over the conviction of a pro-Palestinian activist

February 12, 2009 | 12:07 pm

Magdi_hussein_protest_final Dozens of activists protested in Cairo on Thursday over the conviction of an anti-government journalist who had been sentenced to prison for illegally crossing into the Gaza Strip during Israel's 22-day incursion into the Palestinian enclave.

Magdy Ahmed Hussein, an Islamist journalist and vehement critic of President Hosni Mubarak, was sentenced by a military tribunal on Wednesday to two years in prion and fined nearly $1,000 (LE 5,000) for sneaking into Gaza through tunnels last month. It is difficult to challenge such a verdit in a military court, where the journalist was tried: Defendants are denied the right to appeal in military courts. 

“This verdict is a way to punish Magdi for his anti-Muabrak positions,” his wife, Naglaa Qalyoubi, said on the sidelines of a press conference held at the press syndicate in support of Hussein. “Magdi was among the first people who said no to Mubarak and this is the reason behind the hefty sentence.”

Mohamed Damati, one of 25 lawyers who volunteered to defend Hussein, told reporters that the defendant was denied a fair trial. “We were prevented from entering the courtroom,” said Damati. “I cannot call the trial a trial or the judge who was there a judge. All the procedures that were implemented had nothing to do with legal procedures.”

Prominent opposition figures present at the news conference contended that the verdict showed the Mubarak government servec Israeli interests. “The first priority for the Egyptian regime is to conform to Israeli desires,” said Abdel Haleem Qandil, one of Mubarak’s staunchest detractors. “Rafah border crossing is closed to heed Israeli desires so Hussein was convicted because he broke the siege and hence acted against Israeli desires.”

Magdi_husseins_wife_finalThe Egyptian ruling regime has faced harsh criticism at home and in different Arab capitals for not fully opening the Rafah border crossing. It was accused of conspiring with Israel to tighten the siege on the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza and its 1.5 million Palestinians.

Protestors raising pictures of Hussein shouted, “Down with Hosni Mubarak” and “Mubarak, are you with or against us? Of course, you are against us.”

The regime recently has sharpened its teeth against pro-Palestinian activists. Earlier, a military tribunal sentenced two activists, Ahmed Douma and Ahmed Kamal, to one year in prison for crossing illegally into the Gaza Strip.

Diaa Eddin Gad, a 22-year-old blogger, reportedly has been detained in an unknown location. On his blog “Angry Voice,” Gad has voiced ruthless criticism of Mubarak’s position during the Israeli war on Gaza. He condemned him as “a Zionist agent.”

Egyptian-German blogger Phillip Rizk, who was arrested earlier this month during a pro-Palestinian protest in a Delta province, was released Wednesday after days of interrogation.

—Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo

Photos: At top, protestors raise pictures of Hussein at the gates of the press syndicate in downtown Cairo. Bottom, Naglaa al-Qalyoubi, Hussein's wife, speaks at the press conference ahead of the protest. Credit: Noha El-Hennawy

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