The Public Prosecution interrogated two journalists on charges of publishing false news relating to the Port Said stadium case on Wednesday. They were subsequently released on LE1,000 bail.
Journalists Khaled Ammar, from the partisan Al-Wafd newspaper, and Ramadan Ahmed, from the Rose Al-Youssef online news portal, were questioned for publishing claims that the prosecution had accepted an appeal against a death sentence handed to a defendant in the Port Said massacre case. Ahmed told Mada Masr that they faced accusations of “publishing false news with the intention of harming public interest.”
Both journalists published quotes from lawyer Anas al-Sayed, who represents Hassan Magdy, sentenced to death earlier this month on accusations of killing Ahly football fans during the Port Said massacre. The lawyer claimed that the prosecution had accepted an appeal he filed against his client’s death sentence, which would grant him a retrial. The prosecution refuted these claims.
In a statement issued on Wednesday the prosecution wrote that submitting an appeal does not mean it has been accepted, and would not result in the suspension of the sentence or a retrial, adding that “this false news could harm public interest and the state’s supreme interests, which impose a commitment from all parties to respect the judiciary’s final rulings.”
Ahmed said that he reported the lawyer’s claims after communicating with legal experts to confirm the implications if the appeal were accepted. The source he contacted confirmed that acceptance of the appeal would necessitate a retrial.
Ahmed said he and Ammar were asked why they didn’t contact the public prosecutor’s office for comment. “We said that prosecution never communicates with journalists, especially in the absence of a media office or official spokesperson, which is a big problem for reporters working on this case. This is unlike when late Prosecutor General Hesham Barakat was in office, and there was a media office which responded to our queries,” Ahmed noted.
The journalist added that Sayed was also interrogated, but was released without bail. He told Mada Masr that he had published the prosecution’s statement refuting Sayed’s claims as a show of goodwill.
Journalists have been interrogated on similar charges in a number of cases. The Public Prosecution referred former culture minister Gaber Asfour and three journalists from the privately owned Al-Bawaba newspaper to the criminal court in November on accusations of insulting the public prosecution. The case dates back to 2015 when novelist Ahmed Naji was sentenced to two years in prison for violating public indecency. At the time, Asfour said during an event in support of the novelist that the prosecution’s arguments in the case were extremist and resembled the discourse of the Islamic State. The journalists were interrogated for reporting Asfour’s comments.
In a similar case, a court sentenced Reda Edward, CEO of the privately owned Al-Dostour newspaper, its editor-in-chief Saeed Wahba and journalist Hussein Mahmoud to three months in prison and issued them LE20,000 fines for publishing false news concerning the Interior Ministry in November, but the sentences were appealed.
Journalists from a several different media institutions were also interrogated for publishing reports detailing allegations of corruption leveled against former Justice Minister Ahmed al-Zend. Journalist Ahmed Amer from the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper was sentenced to one year in prison, and editor-in-chief Hesham Younes was fined LE10,000 for libel in the same case in July 2016. The ruling was not final and has since been appealed.
*Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the journalists’ bail was set at LE10,000. It has been amended to reflect the bail was LE1,000.