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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 February 2006, 19:01 GMT
Egypt journalist jailed for libel
A Bedouin tribal leader reads an Egyptian newspaper
Journalists can be sentenced to up to two years in prison for libel
An Egyptian appeals court has upheld a one-year prison sentence given to a journalist convicted of libelling the country's former environment minister.

Abd al-Nasser al-Zuhairi and his two colleagues were also ordered to pay $1,745 in damages to Mohammed Suleiman.

The three journalists had published a report in 2004 saying the minister's house had been searched in a corruption probe and that he had been suspended.

Human rights groups called for the law criminalising libel to be repealed.

Mr Zuhairi and his fellow journalists, Alaa al-Ghatrifi and Youssef al-Umi, had been sentenced to one year in jail in the same case in April, but were granted a retrial because they had been tried in absentia.

Although all three were fined this time, the custodial sentences for Mr Ghatrifi and Mr Umi were overturned.

The journalists' newspaper, al-Misri al-Yawm, said it did not know why Mr Zuhairi had been singled out.

The secretary-general of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, Hafez Abu Saada, warned Mr Suleiman had the right to sue for more compensation.

'Beleaguered community'

Mr Abu Saada called on President Hosni Mubarak to repeal a law passed in 1996 that stipulates custodial sentences of up to two years for journalists convicted of defamation.

Mr Mubarak had promised to scrap the law in 2004, but parliament has not yet approved the change.

The Committee to Protect Journalists also sent an open letter to the president criticising him for not acting on his promise.

"Not only is your pledge unfulfilled two years later, but during this period journalists were sentenced to prison, harassed and assaulted for doing their job," it said.

The committee said that the Egyptian government had in fact increased legal restrictions on the press.

"Amendments, together with attacks on the press and prison sentences handed down by courts, have had a chilling effect on the already beleaguered community of independent journalists in Egypt," it said.

"The CPJ calls on your Excellency to promptly carry out your promise and turn the page on imprisoning Egyptian journalists for what they report."

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