Egyptian opposition activist jailed for six months for slander

Defence lawyers have appealed the sentence against Hisham Kassem

Hisham Kassem, political activist and former newspaper publisher, was sentenced to six months in jail on Saturday September 16, 2023. His lawyers have appealed against the decision. Reuters
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An Egyptian court has sentenced Hisham Kassem, an opposition campaigner, to six months in prison for slandering a former minister and verbally abusing state employees.

Mr Kassem, a former newspaper publisher, was also fined 20,000 Egyptian pounds ($640).

His defence lawyers appealed against the sentencing. A higher court will hold its first hearing on the appeal on October 7, they said.

Mr Kassem will remain in detention until his appeal is heard.

A critic of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi's government, he is 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.

Mr Kassem has been in detention for nearly a month. He began a hunger strike shortly after he was held, according to his lawyer, Nasser Amin.

He suspended his strike this week, the lawyer said.

Saturday's hearing, the third in the case, was held amid tight security in a courthouse in an eastern Cairo suburb. Media and western diplomats were denied entry to the courtroom.

Mr Kassem's detention and swift referral to trial came after the release of several high-profile opposition campaigners in July, including Ahmed Douma, who was jailed for 10 years, researcher Patrick Zaki, and human rights lawyer Mohamed El Baqer.

Mr Amin said three policemen at the Cairo police station where Mr Kassem was initially held, filed a complaint against him for “verbally assaulted them, using expletives,” according to Mr Amin.

The slander case was filed by a former labour minister, Kamal Abu Eita, who accused Mr Kassem of slandering him in a Facebook post.

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

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi. AFP

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 prisoners.

Critics have dismissed the measures as superficial and say arrests have continued.

Mr El Sisi is widely expected to run for a third term in office when elections are held early next year.

Updated: September 16, 2023, 11:51 AM