- The Egyptian appeals court has overturned jail sentences of four editors convicted of defaming the president and his close associates. The sentences were in response to libel suits brought by people with connections to the ruling party.
The court in the capital Cairo ruled that each newspaper editor must instead pay a fine of 20,000 Egyptian pounds, or almost US $3,600, news reports said.
A lower court had sentenced the editors to a year in prison for publishing several articles that thought to be damaging the reputations of the president and members of the governing National Democratic Party.
Those sentenced were Wael El-Ibrashi of the weekly Sawt Al-Umma; Ibrahim Eissa, editor of the daily Al-Dustour; Adel Hammouda, editor of Al-Fagr weekly; and Abdel Halim Qandil of the weekly Al-Karama. The four had remained free pending their appeal.
Amnesty International welcomed the ruling but lamented Egypt's prosecution of journalists for their writings, describing it as part of a government campaign to stifle criticism.
"We are relieved that the four editors' prison sentences have been overturned but the imposition of heavy fines and the prospect of trials on vaguely worded charges constitute unacceptable obstacles to freedom of the press in Egypt," the rights group said in a statement issued late Saturday after the ruling.
It further appealed to Egyptian authorities to stop using the press law to suppress freedom of speech and to recognise the important role a free and independent press in any society.
In July 2006, the parliament passed a new press law that makes insulting public officials an offense punishable by prison time. Egyptian journalists say the law curtails freedom of expression.
In a separate case, Mr Eissa was sentenced in March to six months in prison for reporting on rumors about the president's health. The sentence was later reduced to two months, and in October he was pardoned by the president.
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