- Press freedom activists have lashed at Egyptian authorities for jailing a newspaper editor for two months after writing stories that questioned health of 80 year old president Hosni Mubarak.
An appeals court sentenced Mr Ibrahim Eissa, editor of independent daily al-Dustor newspaper, to two months in prison on Sunday. Mr Eissa was among several editors who suggested in 2007 that president Mubarak was ill after he made fewer public appearances than usual.
"I believe this ruling opens gates of hell to Egyptian journalism. It takes us back to square one," said al-Dustor after hearing news of his conviction as he was sentenced in abstaintia.
Government denied president Mubarak was ailing. Mr Eissa was convicted in March and given a six-month sentence by a lower court for publishing stories saying Mr Mubarak's health was deteriorating. However, he went to appeals court, but court upheld verdict but reduced sentence by four months.
Activists said sentence indicated that degree of freedom independent media have enjoyed in recent years may be over.
Egyptian government had claimed that Mr Eissa's reports weakened stock market and scared off international investors in the country.
"We are dismayed by Egyptian government's determination to jail our colleague and to keep using the judiciary to settle scores with journalists who criticise president Mubarak," said Committee to Protect Journalists Executive Director Joel Simon.
Mr Eissa's case is part of a wider crackdown on journalists that Freedom House has measured in recent years. The government's repressive laws and extralegal intimidation of journalists continue to erode press freedom in Egypt, activists have said.
Government is sensitive about portrayals of its frail 80-year-old leader and coverage of growing discord over inflation, poverty and corruption within the ruling party. Bloggers and cyberspace activists have been jailed.
The nation's chief prosecutor recently put a gag order on media not to cover case of a Hisham Talaat Mustafa, a real estate billionaire and member of parliament accused ordering the slaying of a Lebanese pop diva.
Mr Mubarak has held office uninterrupted since 1981. Correspondents say he has no obvious successor and any speculation about his health is a very sensitive topic in Egypt.
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