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Egyptian Al-Dustur chief editor summoned over reports on president’s health

BBC Monitoring

Text of report by Muslim Brotherhood website Ikhwanonline on 4 September

[Report by Ahmad Ramadan: "Editor-In-Chief of the newspaper al-Dustur to be interrogated over what his newspaper published about the health of President Mubarak."]

The supreme State security prosecution has issued a subpoena summoning colleague Ibrahim Isa, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper al-Dustur to appear before the prosecution on Wednesday, 5 September 2007, after attorney Samir Muhammad al-Tashtawi, chairman of the Egyptian Organization for the Defence of National Unity, filed a complaint with the attorney general accusing Isa of circulating rumours and publishing false news on the health of President Mubarak.

A judicial source has said that al-Tashtawi has accused Isa in his complaint of "trying to portray the State as undergoing political vacuum and that its institutions have undergone a state of paralysis, thereby instilling in citizens frustration and fear of the future along with anticipation and alarm that have affected th! e economic situation."

The decision to subpoena Isa was received with great indignation by the press circles. Member of the Council of the Egyptian Press Association [EPA] and Chairman of the Freedoms Committee, Muhammad Abd-al-Quddus, has declared that the summoning was tantamount to an infringement on the freedom of the press and that it fell in the same context as that of the arrest of Dr Isam al-Aryan and his patriotic colleagues. He said that it was natural for an authoritarian regime to behave in this way.

Abd-al-Quddus said that the EPA will form a delegation to accompany Ibrahim Isa at interrogation on Wednesday, 5 September 2007. He asserted that the EPA was in full solidarity with the editor-in-chief of the al-Dustur newspaper.

The staff of the newspaper al-Dustur were equally indignant. Amirah Jad told Ikhwanonine that the staff of the newspaper were extremely indignant and believed that there was a conspiracy being concocted against the newspap! er because of its anti-regime policy. Jad said that the decision to su bpoena the editor-in-chief of the newspaper coincided with a press campaign led by the national newspapers and the newspaper of the ruling National Democratic Party [NDP] as well as with a press campaigns launched by Ahmad Musa of al-Ahram, Ibrahim Ali of al-Jumhuriyah, and the Rose al-Yusuf newspaper demanding the closure of al-Dustur.

On his part, Dr Faruq Abu-Zayd, member of the supreme council of the press and official in charge of judging the press reports published, has denied that the council had issued its report in this regard as has been reiterated or that the report demanded the investigation of Ibrahim Isa. He said that the report would be issued next Sunday at best.

Abu-Zayd reiterated his belief in the freedom of the press, provided that freedom is associated with responsibility, as a prerequisite for the development of the Egyptian press.

Jamal Fahmi, member of the Council of the EPA, told the AFP that the supreme State security prosecution h! ad notified the EPA about Isa's subpoena for investigation without explaining the reasons for this investigation.

Fahmi added that they were told by judicial sources that the reason for the subpoena was a rumour published on the health of the president, although the press dealt with this question within the recognized limits of political controversy in all democratic states. It also fulfils the need of the public to cover an issue which has preoccupied the public for a long period of time during which the official government bodies were maintaining silence.

He pointed out that these official government bodies did not comply with the principles of transparency and clarity on a matter that was very important as this one.

Fahmi added: We are very concerned over the campaign of instigation being launched against the freedom of the press. Journalists associated with the ruling NDP are taking part in this campaign although the articles of the law they are demand! ing their activation are some of the most important articles which the EPA has been calling for revoking, all the more so because they pose serious restrictions on the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press. An example of this are the provisions of the Penal Code which include loose paragraphs about the publication of false rumours that cause confusion in the ranks of the public.

On his part, Ibrahim Isa said: "I received the subpoena through the EPA. I am really astonished for several reasons. One of these reasons is that all the private daily Egyptian newspapers and the national or government newspapers have voiced their views on this subject and none of them received any subpoenas. I was the only one to receive a subpoena. We published a news item in al-Dustur saying that the president's health was good and demanded that the presidential office or the Ministry of Health issue a statement replying to the rumours disseminated on he president's health. But when they failed to do so, we criticized the failure to issue a statem! ent explaining the facts to the people. All this was not a violation of the law."

Isa added: "I was summoned for investigation on the strength of a request made by the Egyptian Interior Ministry. All this confirms that it is a question of settlement of accounts with the newspaper al-Dustur and with me personally because of what I write."

Several government newspaper launched in the recent days violent attacks on the opposition and independent newspapers for disseminating what they called a rumour about the president's health, with particular emphasis on the newspaper al-Dustur.

Source: Ikhwanonline website, Cairo, in Arabic 4 Sep 07

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