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Tuesday, 3 December, 2002, 18:18 GMT
Egyptian activist freed pending retrial
Saad Eddin Ibrahim
Dr Ibrahim now faces a third trial
Egypt's highest appeal court has freed Egyptian-American civil rights activist, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, after quashing his seven-year sentence on charges of defaming the country.

The court ordered a retrial to begin on 7 January.

Dr Ibrahim was sentenced to jail in July for tarnishing Egypt's image, accepting foreign money without government approval and embezzling funds.


The charges are a pretext to punish him for criticising government policies

Amnesty International
He was also accused of spreading misinformation about the political situation in Egypt.

"I'm happy I'm free," he told French news agency AFP.

"I did not expect things to go so fast; I thank Egyptian justice."

Decision welcomed

The case strained relations with Washington, which threatened to cut aid to Egypt after the verdict.

However US Ambassador to Egypt David Welch has said he welcomed the news that Dr Ibrahim was free, adding the decision was particularly fortunate given Dr Ibrahim's ill health.

The human rights organisation Amnesty International had also called for the release of the 64-year-old sociology professor, who is said to be suffering health problems.

Christians' rights

Dr Ibrahim's conviction was itself the result of an earlier retrial.

It followed an original conviction in May 2001 which led to him serving eight months in prison.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
Mubarak: The case is a matter for the courts alone
The charges on which Dr Ibrahim was convicted in July this year include:

  • Receiving funds from an Israeli university and Nato
  • Having financial links to the EU, the Qatar-based Arab satellite TV station Al-Jazeera and a Swiss human rights group
  • "Fabricating false information to harm the country's reputation" with reports on discrimination and massacres against the Coptic Christian minority

A report by Dr Ibrahim which traced persecution of Christians back to 1952, and argued that it had intensified under the late President Anwar Sadat, was quoted in court.

The sociologist had allegedly asked a German Protestant organisation to fund a project on Christians and the educational system.

A 1992 military decree bars Egyptians from accepting foreign money without government permission.

Outrage

Ahead of Tuesday's court decision, Amnesty International demanded the release of Dr Ibrahim and three of his colleagues:

"The charges... are a pretext to punish them for criticising government policies," the organisation said.

Dr Ibrahim's colleagues at the Cairo-based Ibn Khaldun Centre for Development Studies, which was founded by the academic, were sentenced to three-year prison terms.

Their arrests came in July 2000 after the centre announced it intended to monitor that year's parliamentary election in Egypt.

The centre's report on the 1995 election had alleged vote-rigging.

Following the sentence this summer, US President George W Bush announced his country would oppose granting Egypt any aid beyond the $2bn it supplies as part of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.

The jailed professor, who is originally from Illinois, is still recovering from a broken leg and also suffers from a neurological disorder.

See also:

15 Aug 02 | Middle East
29 Jul 02 | Middle East
08 Feb 02 | Middle East
18 Oct 02 | Country profiles
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