Cablegate: Appeals Court Convicts and Sentences Independent

Published: Mon 29 Sep 2008 11:11 AM
DE RUEHEG #2122/01 2731121
O 291121Z SEP 08
C O N F I D E N T I A L CAIRO 002122
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/28/28
REF: A. CAIRO 595 B. 07 CAIRO 2936 C. 07 CAIRO 2825 AND PREVIOUS Classified By: CDA Matthew Tueller for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1.(C) Summary and comment: On September 28, a Cairo appeals court upheld the March conviction of "Al-Dostour" newspaper editor Ibrahim Eissa for spreading false information about President Mubarak's health, and sentenced Eissa to two months in prison. "Al-Dostour" ("The Constitution") is an independent, sensationalist daily. The court ordered Eissa to report to jail by September 30, and he stated publicly September 28 that he would surrender himself within 24 hours. Eissa's lawyers told us they will petition the Court of Cassation (Egypt's highest court of appeals for criminal cases) to over-turn the sentence, but they believe the court will probably not act on the petition before Eissa serves his full two-month sentence. Downcast human rights contacts expressed their disappointment to us September 28, criticizing the GOE for trying to intimidate journalists and speculating that the GOE is punishing Eissa for his anti-government writings on succession and corruption, in addition to the actual charges. The government is using the sentence to signal domestically that journalists who criticize Mubarak directly will pay a price; the reduced two-month sentence from the original suspended six-month term handed down in March is probably an attempt to temper international criticism. A proposed draft Department statement on the decision based on previously cleared language is in para 6. End summary and comment.
2.(C) On September 28, a Cairo appeals court upheld the conviction of "Al-Dostour" editor-in-chief Ibrahim Eissa on charges of spreading false information in connection with his paper's August 2007 reporting that alleged President Mubarak was in poor health, and sentenced Eissa to two months in prison. Eissa was appealing a March 26, 2008 conviction on the same charges by a Cairo court, which handed down a six-month suspended sentence (ref A). One of Eissa's lawyers, Hafez Abu Seada of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, told us September 28 that Eissa's legal team would try to petition the Court of Cassation to overrule the sentence. Abu Seada said the court ordered Eissa to report to jail by September 30, and that the lawyers are pessimistic they can intervene to change the court's decision. Eissa announced publicly September 28 that he would surrender himself within 24 hours, though the Head of the Journalists' Syndicate said publicly the evening of September 28 that he had brokered a deal with the Interior Ministry on delaying the start of Eissa's sentence until after the Eid Al-Fitr holiday later this week. Another of Eissa's lawyers, Mahmoud El-Din, told us September 28 that he expects the Court of Cassation to delay action on the legal team's petition for at least two months in order to ensure that Eissa will serve his entire sentence.
3.(C) Abu Seada told us Eissa had expected to serve jail time, and was therefore not surprised by the appeals court verdict and sentencing. Sounding downcast, Abu Seada expressed exasperation with the court decision, which he described as an order of "this crazy government." He said the legal team will immediately work with international human rights groups on launching a campaign to pressure the government to release Eissa. Abu Seada told us that the government had sent strong signals it was prepared to sentence Eissa to jail time by directing the attorney general and the state security prosecution office to bring the case to court. Hossam Bahgat, Executive Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, characterized the court's decision as "outrageous," and not consistent with the evidence presented in court. Bahgat told us he expects the government to subject Eissa to verbal abuse in prison to "break him down," and opined that the government is trying to humiliate Eissa by incarcerating him during the upcoming holidays Eid Al-Fitr (later this week) and Eid Al-Adha 40 days later.
4.(C) Gamal El-Din of the Arab Network for Human Rights told us September 28 that he attributed the court decision to the regime's desire to punish Eissa for a long history of articles criticizing presidential son Gamal Mubarak as a successor to Mubarak and for his anti-corruption writings, in addition to the actual charges. Founder of the independent newspaper "Al-Masry Al-Youm," Hisham Kassem, described the court's decision to us as "childish." Kassem asked rhetorically, "What happened to Mubarak's promise four years ago not to jail any more journalists?" Kassem asserted that despite the relatively light sentence, the fact remains that the regime is trying to intimidate journalists. Eissa himself called in to the pan-Arab satellite channel "Al-Arabiya" September 28 soon after the court's decision to criticize the regime for "chasing its opponents with investigations and court rulings, (revealing) the illusion of political reform in Egypt."
5.(C) Comment: With the appeal court's decision, the government is signaling that journalists who cross the red-line of criticizing Mubarak by name will pay a price. The decision to decrease the sentence to two months, from the March 28 verdict of a six-month suspended sentence, is probably an attempt to temper criticism from foreign governments, international NGOs, and the international media. Eissa, well aware of GOE red-lines, has made a concerted effort to push the boundaries of press freedom, probably out of a combination of idealism, personal animus toward Mubarak and a desire to maintain his prominence as a public anti-establishment figure. End comment.
6.(SBU) Suggested draft Department statement: The United States is deeply concerned by the September 28 Egyptian Appeals Court decision sentencing "Al-Dostour" editor Ibrahim Eissa to two months in jail. Journalists should not be subject to criminal prosecutions for exercising their freedom of speech. We urge the Egyptian government to increase protections for journalists. Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of a democratic system, and journalists in Egypt should be free to pursue their profession without fear of criminal prosecution and jail sentences. TUELLER
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