Independent editor faces litany of charges

An Egyptian court on Monday began proceedings for the trial of Wael al-Ebrashi, editor-in-chief of independent weekly Sawt al-Umma, and Heba Jaafar, another editor at the publication. Both are accused of spreading slanderous statements about government officials and face defamation charges.

Deputy Prosecutor-General Abdullah al-Gamal is suing the defendents after Sawt al-Umma published an article earlier this month that headlined, "Deputy Prosecutor-General sues Prime Minister and Minister of Health for refusing his health treatment at the state’s expense." The reporting revealed a legal battle underway between al-Gamal and the two ministers. Al-Gamal says the coverage is unfounded.

Judicial sources told Al-Masry Al-Youm the Giza Criminal Court had decided to postpone the trial until 13 October.

This is al-Ebrashi’s third court appearance for three different cases in the past ten days.

“It is not possible that all these cases coming at this exact time is a coincidence," al-Ebrashi said in a press statement. "This is certainly a scare tactic aimed at all honest journalists.”

Al-Ebrashi said the legal system was being used to restrain journalists.

The editor-in-chief is also standing trial for inciting the public against the proposed real estate tax legislation. The suit was filed against him by Egyptian Finance Minister Youssef Boutros-Ghali.

In addition, he is standing trial in front of the Giza Criminal Court in a suit filed against him by the Basateen district Chief of Police. The chief has accused al-Ebrashi and another editor of defamation, stemming from an article entitled "Al-Basateen Police Department: A prison for the poor" and another which headlined, "A criminal’s resort and the victims of corruption."

In 2007, an Egyptian court sentenced al-Ebrashi and three other independent editors-in-chief to one year in prison each on charges of "spreading false information likely to disturb public order." An appeals court later ruled to drop the charges, however, after ordering each of the defendants to pay LE20,000 fine.

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