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Press Release


Freedom of Expression - Now Cartoonist Faces Jail

An Egyptian man who was charged with insulting one of the country's courts faces up to three years in jail. His crime? Drawing a cartoon.

In December 1999 'Issam al-Din Hanafi was working for the opposition newspaper al-Sha'ab. He and two colleagues - the journalists Magdi Hussein and Salah Badawi - had been sentenced to two years' imprisonment following a libel case brought by a government minister. The newspaper then printed 'Issam al-Din Hanafi's cartoon, which carried the caption "the unfair ruling against al-Sha'ab."

The verdict is expected 14 February 2001.

"We are very concerned that a cartoonist is facing a prison term for merely expressing his views," Amnesty International said today."This is far from being the only case of its kind. An increasing number of people are being detained and tried in Egypt simply because they exercised their right to freedom of expression."

In the year 2000 alone at least 30 prisoners of conscience - individuals who have not used or advocated the use of violence - were sentenced to prison terms of between six months and five years in connection with their political or religious beliefs. The parliamentary elections in 2000 led to the detention of hundreds of possible prisoners of conscience. In some cases they were held for months before being released without charge.

This year has already proved to be no better. In mid-January seven individuals who were alleged to have been members of the Baha'i faith - a minority which has suffered in the past from harassment - were detained. About two weeks later the writer Salah al-Din Muhsin, 43, was sentenced to three years imprisonment, accused of "offending religion" in his publications. His original trial in July 2000 had resulted in a six month suspended sentence, but the case returned to court after the authorities refused to endorse the verdict, deeming the sentence too lenient.

Amnesty International considers Salah al-Din Muhsin to be a prisoner of conscience. The human rights organization calls on the Egyptian authorities to release immediately and unconditionally all prisoners of conscience. The authorities should review or abolish legislation that, in violation of international standards, stipulates prison sentences for acts which constitute nothing more than the exercise of the rights of freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Amnesty International is further concerned about the trial of human rights defender Saad Eddin Ibrahim and other activists from Egyptian nongovernmental organisations, which is due to resume on 17 February. Amnesty International believes that the trial, held before the Supreme State Security Court, is politically motivated. Saad Eddin Ibrahim is the director of the Ibn Kaldoun Center for Development Studies. He was arrested last year, along with several colleagues and others associated with the organization. All of them were detained in June and July and held without being formally charged before being released in August. Amnesty International has protested that the proceedings fail to conform to international standards for fair trials.

Issam al-Din Hanafi served several months of the original sentence handed down in the libel trial before being amnestied in October 2000. Magdi Hussein and Salah Badawi were released in December 2000.

Prisoners of conscience sentenced in 2000 and currently serving prison sentences include the following:

  • In September 2000 Manal Wahid Mana', the alleged leader of a religious group, and three of her followers charged with "offending religion" were sentenced to prison terms of between three and five years by the Emergency State Security Court for Misdemeanours.

  • In November 2000 the Supreme Military Court sentenced 15 professionals and alleged members of the banned Muslim Brothers to prison terms of between three and five years.

The rights to freedom of expression and religion are provided in international and regional treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, to which Egypt is a state party.

Source: Amnesty International, International Secretariat, 1 Easton Street, WC1X 8DJ, London, United Kingdom

Contact your nearest Amnesty International office for more information

©Copyright 2001, Amnesty International

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