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Tue 2 Oct 2007 11:45 AM

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Central bank governor to testify in editor trial

Governor summoned in trial of editor who questioned health of President Mubarak.

An Egyptian court on Monday decided to summon the country's central bank governor to testify in the trial of a newspaper editor accused of spreading rumours about the health of President Hosni Mubarak.

The trial of Ibrahim Issa, editor of the independent daily Al-Dustour, began on Monday but was swiftly adjourned to October 24, when the court is expected to listen to the testimony of Farouk el-Okdah.

"This trial is one of freedom of the press not of Ibrahim Issa," Issa told AFP after the hearing, which he did not attend.

Head of the capital market authority Ahmed Saad will also testify, said the court, while the journalist union has described the adjournment as regime backpedalling.

Issa is accused by the state security prosecution of publishing "false information ... damaging the public interest and national stability" which concerned the health of the 79-year-old president.

About $350 million worth of foreign investments left the country following the rumours. Issa denies the charges, but if found guilty, could face up to three years in jail.

Issa was sentenced to a year in prison with three other editors in September on the charge of defaming Mubarak and his politician son Gamal, a senior ruling National Democratic Party leader. The four have appealed against the verdict.


Analysts and human rights groups see the two cases as signs of an increasing clampdown from the government against independent newspapers that regularly criticise the president.

The government says the Egyptian judiciary is not politically influenced and independent.

Rumours about Mubarak's health abounded Egypt between late August and early September until the president, who has been in power since 1981, appeared on television.

As with other trials of journalists, the case against Issa has been brought by a private individual since Egyptian law allows citizens to lodge complaints which can then lead to criminal convictions.

Eight private cases have now been filed against Issa, something he calls "proofs of the judicial farce" he is being subject to.

"I hope the case will be decided in accordance with the law and that jailing journalists will be a red line - even if I have no faith in this regime," the editor told AFP.

Editors from 15 opposition and independent newspapers have said they will not publish editions on October 7 in protest at what they say is a media clampdown.