The United Nations Committee Against Torture called on the government in November 2002 to take steps to curb brutality in the country’s prisons. The case of Egyptian-American sociologist and human rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim caused a big stir and tension between Egypt and the United States. He was jailed and then sentenced in July to seven years in prison by the supreme state security court for harming the country’s image and accepting foreign money without government permission. He was freed in early December after an international campaign.
The case showed the kind of pressure the country’s human rights defenders faced. Violation of these rights continued in the media, with criticism of the president, his family and the army among the taboo subjects, despite the constitutional court’s 1993 ruling that the right to criticise public officials was a requirement of a democratic system.
Opposition journalists regularly criticise the government but Egyptian journalists are very often obliged to censor themselves. The state of emergency law allows the president to order the lengthy detention without charge or trial of anyone suspected of "threatening public order or national security." The 1996 press law provides for jail terms of between one and two years for libel, "insults" or "putting out false news."
Five journalists and one cyber-dissident were given prison sentences during the year. No laws regulate the Internet but the interior ministry set up a department in September 2002 to monitor new information technology. Until then, the Internet had been watched by the ministry’s information and archives department, which several times helped the security services do investigations, identify "suspects" and arrest Internet users, especially homosexuals.
Two journalists imprisoned
Both were still in prison at the end of 2002.
Abd Al-Munim Gamal Al-Din Abd Al-Munim, of the Islamist weekly Al Shaab, the organ of the Labour Party, was jailed in February 1993 under an indefinite detention order. On 30 October that year, after an eight-month trial before the Cairo military court, he was acquitted along with a dozen other defendants. Instead of being freed, he was sent to Tora prison, in Cairo, and at the end of 2002 was in Fayum prison, southwest of Cairo.
The state security court sentenced Mahmud Mahran, editor of the weekly Al Nabaa and the daily Akher Khabar, to three years in prison and a fine of 200 Egyptian pounds (about 40 euros) on 16 September 2001 for "inciting national rebellion," "insulting a religion" and "publishing indecent photographs."
In July 2001, the court had suspended the licences of the two papers. Issues of them had been seized for containing "false allegations about a holy place" in articles and photos about the debauchery of a bearded man, shown as a monk at a monastery in Assyut (central Egypt) with a naked woman, under the headline "A monastery turned into a whorehouse." The articles sparked many demonstrations by Copts in Cairo in June 2001.
The Cairo supreme administrative court reversed the ban on the two weeklies on 25 May 2002, saying that neither the law nor the national constitution allowed publications to be banned. Mahran’s appeal against his sentence was rejected in July.
Six journalists arrested
Mohammed Izz-Eddin En-Najjar (cameraman) and Mohammed Eid Jalal (sound-man) of the pan-Arab TV station Al-Jazeera, were arrested in Alexandria on 6 March 2002 while filming a pro-Palestinian demonstration at the university. Their camera, cassettes and car were seized by police who said they did not have permission to film inside the university. They were freed the next day, their equipment was returned and they were not charged with any offence.
Several journalists were arrested in the Ramle section of Alexandria on 27 June during a parliamentary by-election contested by candidates of the Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling National Democratic Party. Hany Emara (journalist) and Rida al-Shafie (cameraman) of the UAE station Abu Dhabi TV, were arrested and taken to the local police station when they asked permission to film inside a polling station. They were released a few hours later after voting had ending. The same day, Gihan Rushdy, of the German TV station ZDF, and cameraman Ayman Atef were held for several hours at Ramle police station after filming a confrontation between police and voters at a polling station. Police seized their film.
A journalist physically attacked
During a parliamentary by-election in Alexandria on 27 June 2002, Associated Press reporter Sarah el-Deeb was stopped by police from entering a polling station. As she was talking outside with voters, she was attacked by three women who pulled her hair and injured her neck. Police did not intervene.
Pressure and obstruction
Adel Hammuda, a reporter with the weekly Sawt Al Umma, and the paper’s publisher, Essam Fahmy, were convicted on 21 March 2002 of libelling Nagib Sawiris, the head of Orascom, one of the country’s two biggest telecommunications firms, and each sentenced to six months in prison and fined 500 Egyptian pounds (100 euros) for saying in an article that the wealthy Sawiris was involved in shady business deals. The conviction was overturned on appeal in October, but Sawiris filed a total of 30 lawsuits against the paper.
A court in Bolak (Cairo) sentenced Ahmed Haredi Muhamed, editor of the online newspaper Al Methaq El Arabi, to six months in prison on 28 April for libelling Ibrahim Nafie, editor of the pro-government daily Al-Ahram and head of the Arab Press Syndicate, for saying online in May and June 2001 that senior staff at Al-Ahram had embezzled money. The sentence was upheld/overturned on appeal on 22 December.
Shohdy Surur, webmaster for the English-language Al-Ahram Weekly, was sentenced on appeal on 14 October to a year in prison for "possessing immoral material for sale and distribution with intent to corrupt public morality" (article 178 of the criminal code). He had posted on an Internet website, www.wadada.net, which is partly devoted to the work of his poet and actor father Nagib, a poem called Kuss Ummiyat, which contained passages said to be "an affront to public morality."
The poem was written by the elder Surur, in earthy and sexually-explicit language, as a criticism of Egyptian society and culture after the country’s defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War with Israel. Surur, who died in 1978, was never prosecuted for writing it. His son Shohdy was arrested and interrogated for three days in November 2001. He has dual Egyptian and Russian nationality and lives in Russia.
The state committee for investment and free-zones issued a warning on 4 November to the privately-owned satellite station Dream TV after it put out a programme in mid-October that dealt in an allegedly "sensational manner" with "very sensitive issues" for Egyptian and Arab society" and banned the programme from being re-broadcast. Presenter Hala Sarhan had discussed with viewers the subject of female masturbation.
Said Abdel Khaleq, editor of the privately-owned weekly Al-Midan, and Walid al-Daramali, one of the paper’s journalists, were given suspended three-month prison sentences on 5 November for publishing in May a new photo of the bullet-riddled body of President Anwar al-Sadat, who was assassinated in 1981. They were accused of "defiling" his memory and convicted under article 21 of the press law that bans the invasion of a citizen’s privacy. Khaleq had been sacked on 27 May after the photo appeared. The journalists appealed against the sentence.
In late November, the authorities banned distribution of the November/December issue of the Lebanon-based pan-Arab literary magazine Al-Adab which was about censorship in Egypt and contained analysis and descriptions of censorship of the press, films and the arts. Well-known novelists such as Sonallah Ibrahim and Edward Kharrat contributed to the issue. After pressure from international organisations and Arab intellectuals, the issue was finally distributed in Egypt in early December.
In mid-December, the authorities banned distribution of the Lebanon-based magazine Zawaya for printing an allegedly pornographic cover, showing a belly-dancer with her costume decorated with banknotes. Lutfi Abdel-Qader, head of the state censorship body monitoring foreign publications, said the issue violated the press law about "public morality."