Egyptian court sets date for ruling in slander case against activist Hisham Kassem

Defence lawyers say activist is on hunger strike, in poor health

Hisham Kassem, a former newspaper publisher and political activist, is charged with slandering a former minister. Rueters
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An Egyptian court will issue its verdict on September 16 in the case of prominent activist and publisher Hisham Kassem who is charged with slandering a former minister and verbally assaulting state employees, according to judicial officials.

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 has been in detention for nearly three weeks. He began a hunger strike soon after he was jailed, according to his lawyer, Nasser Amin.

The decision to issue a verdict next Saturday was made during a hearing on Saturday, the trial's only second. The hearing was held amid tight security measures in a courthouse located in an eastern Cairo suburb. The media, western diplomats and representatives if rights groups were kept out of the courtroom, according to the officials and witnesses.

A request by defence lawyers to release Mr Kassem was denied by the judge, said the officials.

Mr Kassem's detention and swift 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.

Mr Amin has said the state employees who filed a complaint against his client 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, according to Mr Amin.

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.

Authorities have since 2013 launched a large-scale crackdown against supporters of Mohammed Morsi, the late Islamist former president ousted by the military in July that year. Beside members of Morsi's now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, the sweep included pro-democracy activists who were part of the 2011 popular uprising that forced longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak to step down.

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 cosmetic 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 09, 2023, 4:08 PM