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Cairo 21 Jan 2009

Al Zohor court of misdemeanors yesterday fined blogger Mohammed Mabrouk author of the blog hakika masriyah LE 2,500 with a further LE40,000 awarded in compensation to Trust Chemicals Company in a libel case filed by the company in June 2008.

The lawsuit was filed by the company after Mabrouk (whose blog is located at )accused the company of throwing substances hazardous to both human and marine life into the lake at Al Manzlah and into the Suez Canal. He also alleged that working conditions in the company are so hard that workers staged a sit-in against sackings and demanded copies of their contracts.

The company only supplied photocopies of the documents asked for in court and the legality of the text the case relied on is doubtful. Moreover, the lawsuit was filed against the article 3 of the law of criminal procedures with total disregard to article 60 of the penal law which says the law does not cover any act performed with good intentions. This case is a breach of the international covenant of civil and political rights article 19 and the Egyptian constitution article 47, both of which ensure the right to freedom of expression.

The court has obviously ignored the blogger’s defense, which he based around the argument that his writing satisfied the conditions of permitted criticism of a factual incident, which is in the public interest. The other aspect of his defense was the ambiguity of elements of the indictment which were not even mentioned in the original petition, and the failure of the company to specify the terms of the alleged defamation.

ANHRI’s Legal Aid Unit for Freedom of Expression believes this sentence to be overly harsh, and will be an unacceptable violation of the freedom of expression if carried out. It disregards the right to legitimate criticism, corroborating once again the fact that whenever we move one step forward in the freedom of expression and opinion, such an unfair verdict is enough to drag us several steps backward.

The Legal Aid Unit for Freedom of Expression expects support from the judiciary for the right to legitimate criticism and freedom of expression and opinion, confirming again the need to change the laws which restrict these freedoms. This is the sword that – until this happens – remains hanging over the heads of every opinion maker in Egypt.