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Egyptian editor gets 6-month prison sentence for stories on presidents health
Ibrahim Eissa, editor of the independent Al-Dustor daily newspaper, gestures at his office in Cairo, Egypt, in this Monday Oct. 1, 2007 file photo. The Egyptian tabloid news editor has been sentenced to six months in prison for reporting on the president's health problems, a court official said Wednesday March 26, 2008. Eissa posted 200 Egyptian pounds (US$40, 25) bail to avoid serving his sentence while he appeals. - photo by Associated Press
    CAIRO, Egypt — A journalist who reported on the president’s alleged health problems was sentenced to six months in prison, which rights groups criticized Thursday as media harassment by the government.
    Ibrahim Eissa, 42, is the editor of the Al-Dustour newspaper and one of the most outspoken critics of President Hosni Mubarak and his government.
    Judge Sherif Mustafa said Wednesday that the articles, published over a series of days in August, caused investors to withdraw their money from the country, the stock market to collapse and the economy to decline by $350 million.
    ‘‘He reported false news about the president’s health which he knew were fabricated,’’ Mustafa said of Eissa.
    In an interview with the Al-Jazeera network, Eissa questioned whether the verdict against him was politically motivated.
    ‘‘Is this a warning to journalists not to touch the president and not to write about anything related to him?’’ he said.
    Amnesty International echoed that charge on Thursday.
    ‘‘This prosecution is part of a wider pattern of Egyptian authorities using criminal defamation and other charges to chill media expression and reporting on issues considered by the authorities as red lines,’’ Amnesty said in a statement.
    The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists joined Amnesty in calling on the Egyptian appeals court to overturn Eissa’s verdict.
    ‘‘Egyptian authorities have once again shown their determination to clamp down on critics in the press through the pernicious use of the courts,’’ Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director, said in a statement Wednesday.
    Eissa must post $40 bail to avoid serving his sentence while he appeals the verdict.
    The stories speculated on the alleged failing health of Mubarak. They included one article that said the president had lapsed into a coma.
    Mubarak and state-run Egyptian media did not comment on or deny what was written in the stories for weeks after they were published, until the president appeared in photos and gave an interview to state-run media.
    Days later, first lady Suzanne Mubarak said in a rare television appearance that her husband was healthy and journalists who reported otherwise deserve to be punished.
    Mubarak, 79, has ruled Egypt for more than a quarter century and hasn’t designated a successor. But many say his son Gamal is being groomed for power.
    Eissa already had been sentenced along with three other newspaper editors to a year in prison in a separate case in September for defaming Mubarak and his party. He has not served any of that sentence.
    The Al-Dustour newspaper is sharply critical of the government and often breaks political, social and religious taboos in its articles. The paper was previously closed in 1998 for seven years by the government after it published a statement by an Islamist group threatening Coptic Christian businessmen in Egypt. It reappeared on newsstands in 2005.
    In 2006, Eissa also was sentenced to a year in prison for libeling Mubarak. An appeals court later reduced the sentence to a $4,000 fine.

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