Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Gauch piece on mounting pressure on independent media and bloggers

Sarah Gauch has a piece in the Christian Science Monitor today on the tough times ahead for the press and bloggers in Egypt. Imad al Kabir, Kareem and Huwaida Taha´s cases are discussed. Here is part of the article:

¨And many worry Egypt's relative freedom of expression may be ending, too. Indeed, they say, Ms. Taha's case is alarming. She was accused of fabricating scenes of torture after the authorities discovered her unedited video including reenactments of torture scenes. Taha says she had Interior Ministry cooperation for the project and had told them about the reenactments.

Activists and journalists say the government is trying to squash accusations of Egyptian police torture with Taha's case, which comes amid revelations of rampant abuse after bloggers posted videos online of apparent police torture.

In one particular case, a minibus driver is shown being sodomized with a stick. Since the tape surfaced, two police officers have been jailed and are scheduled to stand trial. The driver, who subsequently filed a complaint against the police, is serving three months in prison for resisting the authorities.

Mr. Amer is the first Egyptian blogger to face trial. A young former law student at Al-Azhar University, the seat of Sunni Islamic learning, he has been in solitary confinement since being jailed. His trial was adjourned last week until Thursday.

In addition to these two cases, about 45 independent and opposition journalists in Egypt face court cases, according to the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights. While none of those are currently jailed, several are appealing guilty verdicts.

"For many of these cases, the Egyptian government starts the investigation and just leaves the file open," says human rights activist Gamal Eid. "This sends the message: You are under our microscope and we can restart this case at any time."

Although Mr. Mubarak promised in 2004 to abolish prison sentences for journalists, when the country's press laws were amended last July incarceration for journalists – and bloggers – remained.

The government denies accusations of stifling free expression. "Freedom of expression is guaranteed and granted on all levels," says one government official, who asked to remain anonymous. "There are at least 10 newspapers who daily criticize the government, including the president."¨

The promise to abolish prison sentences for journalists was made on the 23rd of February 2004, in about three weeks time it´s the third anniversary of that promise, let´s hope that neither Huwaida Taha or Kareem are in prison by then , or faces the risk of going there anymore.

Unfortunately Imad al Kabir will probably have some time left on his three months sentence, he will come out to face his tormentors in court in March.

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