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Cablegate: Newspaper Shut Down Over Alleging Actors'

VZCZCXRO0877
RR RUEHROV
DE RUEHEG #1971 2881349
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 151349Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3900
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L CAIRO 001971

SIPDIS

FOR NEA/ELA AND DRL/NESCA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/15/2029
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM SOCI EG
SUBJECT: NEWSPAPER SHUT DOWN OVER ALLEGING ACTORS'
HOMOSEXUAL ACTIVITY

REF: A. CAIRO 1332
B. CAIRO 1231 C. 08 CAIRO 2122 Classified By: Economic-Political Minister-Counselor Donald A. Blome for reason 1.4 (d).
1.(U) On October 5, the Supreme Press Council, an administrative GOE body, revoked the license of the weekly tabloid newspaper "Al-Balagh Al-Gadid," effectively shutting it down. The Supreme Press Council's action came in response to an early October article in the paper alleging that police questioned a group of named popular male actors for engaging in gay sex at the Five-Star Semiramis Hotel in downtown Cairo. The article also suggested that the actors were part of a prostitution ring, and that some members of the ring have AIDS. On October 14, the paper's editor and one journalist went on trial for criminal defamation. A judge adjourned the case until October 28.

2.(C) Three human rights lawyers told us that the newspaper had no evidence for its allegations. They expected the editor and the journalist to eventually receive jail sentences for defamation because of the lack of sourcing and the offensive nature of the allegations in the Egyptian social context. Two of the lawyers speculated that the GOE moved quickly on the case because of widespread public affection for one of the actors, XXXXXXXXXXXX. "Al-Balagh's" editor stated publicly on October 6 that his source for the story was a senior police officer. One NGO contact told us there are rumors among journalists that Interior Ministry State Security set "Al-Balagh" up to settle an unknown score.

3.(C) Comment: Revoking a newspaper's license is rare. In the past year, only one paper -- "Al Zuhour" run by the Muslim Brotherhood -- has seen its license revoked, and contacts are hard pressed to name revocations from years past. The GOE's immediate action to ban "Al-Balagh" should be seen in an Egyptian context where homosexuality is a sensitive topic rarely discussed in the press, and where press allegations that public figures are gay are almost unheard of. Several contacts' expectations that the journalists will receive prison time is striking as courts over the past year, with two exceptions (refs A, C), have elected to impose fines, rather than prison sentences, in defamation cases. Scobey

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