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Journalists still feel unease despite presidential pardon.

Cairo: On a single day this week, Abdul Halim Qandil, an outspoken critic of President Hosni Mubarak, had to appear before two local courts to face libel charges against senior politicians in the ruling National Democratic Party.

Qandil, the editor of the independent weekly newspaper Sout Al Ummah (Voice of the Nation), on Saturday appealed against a court ruling sentencing him to one year in jail, along with three other editors of opposition charged with slandering top figures in the ruling party including Mubarak. The court said it would decide on the appeal on December 6.

Also on Saturday, another local court started hearing a libel case filed by Ahmad Ezz, a business tycoon and a senior politician in the ruling party, accusing Qandil of slandering him in an article in his newspaper.

"Jailing journalists in opinion cases is humiliating and harms Egypt's name in front of the whole world," Qandil told Gulf News. "Only backward countries still punish journalists by imprisonment in these cases," he added.

Last week, Mubarak pardoned Ebrahim Eisa, the editor of the daily opposition newspaper Al Destour (Constitution), sentenced late last month by a Cairo court to two months in jail for spreading false news about Mubarak's health in August 2007. The court said that Eisa's false news about Mubarak's health damaged national interests and cost the Egyptian economy 350 million dollars in investment losses.

Egyptian journalists reacted with cautious welcome to the presidential pardon of Eisa. "President Mubarak's decision clears the way for the possibility of reconsidering penalties in publishing offences," said Makram Mohammmad, the chairman of the Egyptian Press Syndicate.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Oct 13, 2008
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