Pro-ElBaradei journalist faces criminal trial over minister ‘insult’

A prominent opposition journalist is to go on trial for allegedly libeling Egypt's foreign minister in a newspaper, a judicial source said on Sunday.

Hamdy Qandil could face prison or a fine if found guilty of the charge of "insulting and libeling a public servant or citizen performing their work," the source said.

Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit filed a complaint against Qandil alleging that he insulted him in a piece he wrote in the independent daily Shorouk last May.

Qandil could not be reached for comment, but the official MENA news agency reported prosecutors as saying that he did not intend to insult the minister. It quoted Qandil as saying that “Abul Gheit’s statements during the last years were uncalculated.”

In his article, Qandil criticized statements made by Abul Gheit, saying that "words usually drop from his (Abul Gheit's) mouth like garbage from a perforated rubbish bag."

Qandil, long known for his pan-Arabist sentiments, used to host a number of television shows including several programs on state-controlled television stations. Earlier this year, he joined the National Association for Change, a loose opposition coalition headed by Mohamed ElBaradei, former chief of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency. Later, several media outlets quoted Qandil as criticizing ElBaradei’s “short stays in Egypt.”     

Media experts have recently voiced concerns over the referral of a growing number of Egyptian journalists to criminal courts.

In June, the Committee to Protect Journalist appealed to Egyptian Finance Minister Youssef Boutros-Ghali to drop criminal charges against two journalists from a weekly independent newspaper.

Ghali had filed the charges against Wael el-Ibrashy, editor-in-chief of Sawt al-Umma, and Samar el-Dawi, a reporter, whom he accused of inciting the public to reject a new property tax law drafted by the government in 2009.

According to the New York-based media watchdog, el-Ibrashy is to stand trial under a penal code article that has been mainly applied to “prosecute armed and militant groups in the past”.

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