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3 Journalists Sentenced in Egypt

August 14, 1999

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Three journalists were sentenced to two years in prison Saturday for libeling Egypt’s deputy prime minister, court officials said.

A criminal court convicted the three of libeling Deputy Prime Minister Youssef Waly in a series of articles and cartoons, published over nearly a year, that accused him of trying to ruin Egypt’s economy. The series was published in the opposition Al-Shaab newspaper.

Waly, who is also the agricultural minister, has signed several agreements with Israel for the supply of seed, fertilizers and technology to fight desertification.

Al-Shaab is published by the Labor Party, which is allied to the Muslim Brotherhood _ Egypt’s strongest Islamic movement _ and opposes peace with Israel. The newspaper called Waly a ``traitor.″

The three sentenced to two years in prison included the newspaper’s editor in chief, Magdi Hussein, reporter Salah Bdeiwi and cartoonist Essam Hanafi, court officials said on customary condition of anonymity. The three also were fined $5,900 each, the officials said.

A fourth journalist of Al-Shaab, Adel Hussein, a columnist and the editor’s brother, was fined the equivalent of $5,900 for defaming the deputy prime minister to a lesser degree.

For the first three defendants, the judge handed down the maximum sentence allowed under a 1996 press law, which journalists and human rights groups have criticized as an infringement on freedom of expression.

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights criticized the verdict as a ``suppressive method″ that would close ``the outlets for the expression of opinion in issues that concern society.″

In a statement faxed to The Associated Press, the group urged authorities to limit punishment of journalists to fines rather than prison terms.

The conviction was Magdi Hussein’s second. Last year, he and another Al-Shaab journalist were sentenced to two years in prison for libeling a former interior minister. The Supreme Court freed them after they reached a settlement with the minister.

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