Conviction of Al-Jazeera Reporter, Prison Term Struck

February 21st, 2008 - by admin

Arabic – 2008-02-21 23:31:32

CAIRO (February 12, 2008) — An appeals court in Cairo Monday upheld the conviction of an Al-Jazeera journalist charged with harming Egypt’s reputation for her work on a documentary about torture, but struck down her prison term.

In a crowded courtroom in north Cairo, Judge Hazem Wageeh read a statement that upheld a count of “making or possessing pictures likely to harm the country’s reputation” but overturned the conviction of journalist Howayda Taha Matwali for spreading “false news.” The judge threw out the six-month prison sentence Matwali originally had been given in May, but upheld a 20,000 Egyptian pound (US$3,607) fine.

Egypt’s constitution “guarantees freedom of expression, of opinion, and of the press,” the judge said, but Matwali “misused this right by preparing fabricated materials on torture in Egypt.”

CPJ Middle East program coordinator Joel Campagna and Middle East representative Kamel Labidi attended today’s hearing, which took place at the Nozha criminal court in Cairo’s Abassiya district. The five-minute hearing was also covered by local and regional news channels.

CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide.

“The prevention of reporting on torture in Egypt does not help control the damage to the country’s reputation abroad, but further exasperates it,” said Campagna. “We are troubled that the court has upheld this conviction of our colleague, who was bringing to light an issue of intense public interest. We welcome the ruling to spare her imprisonment.”

Last May, Matwali was convicted in connection with her work on a documentary exposing police abuse. The court sentenced Matwali, who also writes for the London-based daily Al-Quds al-Arabi, to six months in prison and fined her.

She was charged by a state security prosecutor after authorities found unedited footage showing re-enactments of reported incidents of torture in Egyptian police stations. Matwali, an Egyptian, planned to use the re-enactments in a documentary she was preparing for Al-Jazeera and was stopped as she was trying to leave the country for Qatar; security officers at Cairo airport confiscated her laptop and 50 tapes on January 8.

Al-Jazeera said Matwali had obtained permission from the Interior Ministry for the documentary.

“Howayda Taha Matwali did not in any way harm the reputation of Egypt. Her documentary mirrors real acts of torture perpetrated by police officers,” said attorney Rawda Ahmed Sayed, of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, who defended Matwali. “Some of these police officers have been brought to justice and sentenced for these acts of torture.”

In the last year, Egypt’s courts and members of the ruling National Democratic Party have stepped up judicial attacks on the country’s independent press. Several journalists have been taken to court by party members or by the government itself because of their reporting on sensitive political issues.

Editor-in-Chief Ibrahim Eissa of the daily Al-Dustour is on trial in relation to articles about President Hosni Mubarak’s allegedly declining health. On September 13, in an unprecedented case, a Cairo court sentenced four independent editors to one-year jail terms for publishing “false information” and defaming Mubarak and top aides, including his son Gamal Mubarak.

“Egyptian authorities should use the opportunity of today’s verdict to take immediate steps toward doing away with criminal penalties included in Egypt’s law that are frequently used against members of the independent press,” CPJ’s Labidi said.

In May, CPJ designated Egypt as one of the world’s worst backsliders on press freedom, citing an increase in the number of legal and physical attacks on the press.

Previous Stories:
Torture and Coerced Confessions in E
gyptian Terrorism Investigation

CAIRO (December11, 2007) — “A high-profile terrorism case announced by the Egyptian authorities in 2006 was likely based on torture and false confessions,” Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

Human Rights Watch found that the Egyptian authorities had little or no evidence for their striking allegations. “Instead, the evidence indicates that Egypt’s State Security Investigations (SSI), the country’s domestic intelligence agency, subjected the detainees to torture and other serious abuses. And, although government prosecutors in mid-2006 dismissed all charges against the 22 detainees, many remain in custody nearly two years after their arrest,” the organization said.

“The Victorious Sect arrests demonstrate how the State Security Investigations uses torture and arbitrary detention to make people confess to crimes real or imagined,” said Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch. “Despite the SSI’s long record of abusive conduct, SSI officers responsible for abuses are rarely held to account.”

Human Rights Watch said ” that authorities arrested the 22 men in February and March 2006, well before their detention was announced in April. For those first weeks, the men were held in incommunicado detention in various SSI facilities around Cairo, including Lazoghli, the former SSI headquarters. It was during this initial period of detention that the worst mistreatment occurred.”

As one of the 22 detainees said: “(SSI) transferred us to Lazoghli for a taste of systematic torture… we were beaten up with fists and sticks, and kicked around. (SSI) used electricity on different parts of the body, including sensitive areas.”

A former detainee of the SSI told Human Rights Watch he heard a number of the men being interrogated at an SSI facility in Giza: “What I heard was not just torture; it was beyond imagination,” he said. “You cannot imagine how harsh it was to hear that, the screaming, how harshly they were tortured… I heard some of them screaming when they were being electrocuted. I could hear the electricity too, the ‘zizzzt, zizzzt.'”

Jailed Blogger Tortured after
Uncovering Case of Corruption inside Prison

CAIRO (December 14, 2007) — The Arabic Network for Human Rights information and Hisham Mubarak Center for Law has sent a communiqué to the Egyptian Prosecutor-General on the need to investigate the torture of Karim Amer.

Karim, an Egyptian blogger sentenced to prison for four years for “vilifying religions” and “defaming” the president, was tortured on the order and under the supervision of an investigation officer in Borg Alarab prison, the organization said, adding Karim was also ordered into a solitary cell, where he was assaulted again and had one of his teeth broken. This incident came on the day marking one year since Karim was sent to jail.

Karim reported his torture to his lawyers in the Arabic Network and Hisham Mubarak Center. The torture was perpetrated by another prisoner and a prison guard on the order of one of the prison’s investigation officers. This assault resulted from Karim uncovering an act of corruption in the prison. He was prevented from officially reporting the incident and denied the right to document his injuries in a medical report. The Arabic Network for Human Rights information and Hisham Mubarak Center for Law mentioned in their communiqué to the Prosecutor-General that the assault on Karim involved the following details:

– He was beaten in ward number 22, where he was imprisoned at the time of the assault. The beating was launched by another prisoner and a prison guard in the presence and under the supervision of an officer.

The officer also gave the green light for the assault, which resulted in a broken “upper right canine tooth” along with a number of bruises and abrasions to various parts of the body. He was transferred to a disciplinary cell, where he was handcuffed and had his feet put in shackles. He was beaten again, causing more injuries.

Another inmate was brought to the scene, where they stripped him out of his clothes and beat him severely in front of a prisoner as they also threatened to inflict upon him the same punishment, if he didn’t mind his own business.

Both organizations, the Arabic Network and Hisham Mubarak Centre for Law, have called for an immediate investigation into Karim Amer’s complaint in accordance with Articles 126,127 and 129 of the Criminal Code, according to which the case fits the specifications of a torture crime.

In addition, if these allegations prove to be true, they would represent an infringement of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the United Nations anti-torture treaty and other treaties on mistreatment, cruel punishment and non-humanitarian or degrading treatment, which Egypt has signed on and ratified.

Since he was imprisoned, Karim has been subjected to systemic discrimination and mistreatment by Borg Alarb prison’s officers. He told his lawyer that the mistreatment is always coupled with the phrase, “This is until you change your mind!” This represents a threat to his life and compounds the difficulty of the already harsh sentence. The two organizations are calling for his transfer to another prison, where he can receive more humanitarian treatment and where his rights as a prisoner will be respected.

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