Egyptian activist sent to trial on charges of slander and insulting public officers

Activist and publisher Hisham Kassem could be jailed for a year if convicted

Hisham Kassem, a political activist and former newspaper publisher, will face trial on September 2. Reuters
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Prominent Egyptian activist and publisher Hisham Kassem will face trial on September 2 charged with slandering a former minister and verbally assaulting state employees, his lawyer said.

Nasser Amin told The National that Mr Kassem was transferred on Wednesday to prison, where he will be held until his trial begins.

Mr Kassem, a sharp critic of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi's government, is also a senior leader of Al Tayar Al Hurr, or Free Current, a liberal opposition group formed in June which is expected to field a candidate in the presidential election next year. It is not yet clear whether Mr El Sisi will be seeking a third term.

Mr Kassem's detention and referral to trial follows the release from jail of several high-profile activists, including Ahmed Douma, who had been in prison 10 years and was freed last week, and researcher Patrick Zaki and rights lawyer Mohamed El Baqer in July.

He will be tried by an “economic” court, a tribunal that specifically looks at social media-related offences as well as verbal assaults, according to his lawyer. It's the court's prerogative to order the accused to be detained until his trial begins in cases involving verbal assaults against public officers, he explained. He could be jailed for a year if found guilty.

The public employees in this case are three policemen stationed at the Cairo police station where Mr Kassem was initially held. They complained that Mr Kassem verbally assaulted them, using expletives, said Mr Amin.

The other case arose from a complaint filed by former labour minister Kamal Abu Eita alleging that Mr Kassem slandered him in a July 29 Facebook post.

Mr Abu Eita is a supporter of the president and is a member of a presidential committee tasked with looking into the cases of critics held in pretrial detention and making case-by-case recommendations for their release.

Mr El Sisi's government has sought to address freedom and human rights issues in recent years, including opening a national dialogue with civil society leaders and granting amnesty for some prominent prisoners. Critics have dismissed the measures as cosmetic and say arrests have continued.

Updated: August 25, 2023, 4:43 AM