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Cablegate: Prominent Blogger Appealing Politically Motivated Prison

VZCZCXRO0445
OO RUEHROV
DE RUEHEG #0135/01 0281433
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O R 281433Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0070
INFO ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 000135

SIPDIS
DRL FOR A/S POSNER
FOR NEA, NEA/ELA AND DRL/NESCA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 2035/01/28
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM EG
SUBJECT: PROMINENT BLOGGER APPEALING POLITICALLY MOTIVATED PRISON
SENTENCE REF: CAIRO 99; 09 CAIRO 1447; 09 CAIRO 1263 CLASSIFIED BY: Matthew H. Tueller, Deputy Chief of Mission; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

1.KEY POINTS -- (U) On January 20, a Cairo court upheld a previous decision sentencing prominent blogger Wael Abbas to six months in prison for allegedly damaging a neighbor's internet line in April 2009. Abbas is free on bail pending the case's appeal. -- (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX told us January 28 that the appeals court judge will probably rule on the case during a scheduled February 18 court session. Eid said the normal penalty for damaging an internet line would be a fine of less than 55 USD, but that the case's political dimension has resulted in a much more stringent ruling. -- (C) According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, Abbas is considering fleeing the country before the February 18 court session to avoid potential prison time. Eid said he and Abbas are planning a publicity campaign to generate support for Abbas. -- (C) On January 27, we demarched MFA Deputy Director for Human Rights Omar Shalaby, noting our concern over the case's political dimension. Shalaby said he would look into the case.

2.(C) Comment: We believe a USG statement before February 18 could be counterproductive, causing the GOE to encourage the judge to uphold the sentence in a display of defying "U.S. pressure," and "defending the independence of the judiciary." Instead, we recommend parallel diplomatic approaches to Ambassador Shukry in Washington and senior MFA officials in Cairo to stress concern over the case's political dimension, and to advise of a strong public response if the appeals court upholds a prison sentence for Abbas. End comment.

3.(C) On January 20, a Cairo court upheld a previous "in absentia" decision sentencing prominent blogger Wael Abbas to six months in prison for allegedly damaging a neighbor's internet line, in a criminal suit filed by the neighbor. In November 2009, a court handed down this decision "in absentia," as Abbas and his lawyers claim they were not aware of it. Abbas' lead lawyer XXXXXXXXXXXX speculated to us that the plaintiff bribed a court officer not to notify Abbas of the decision. After learning of the ruling in mid-December, Abbas' lawyers filed a motion requesting a second court session, which took place January 20. The case against Abbas concerns a dispute he had with a neighbor over a shared internet line. Abbas told us that during the dispute, the neighbor and his brother, a police officer, attacked him and broke his teeth. According to Abbas, a court dismissed his suit against the alleged attackers.

4.(C) Abbas is currently free on LE 500 (80 USD) bail, pending his appeal of the case. XXXXXXXXXXXX told us January 28 that the case against Abbas is weak as the neighbor owned the internet line, and needs to prove Abbas entered his apartment and damaged the line. XXXXXXXXXXXX believes the neighbor cut the line himself. XXXXXXXXXXXX said the alleged crime of damaging the internet line is covered under a broad criminal statute relating to property damage. According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, although the criminal statute allows a prison sentence of up to three years, the normal penalty for damage such as cutting an internet line would be a fine of LE 100-300 (18-54 USD). XXXXXXXXXXXX NGO released a public statement January 21 characterizing the court ruling as political retribution against Abbas for his criticism of the government through his blog.

5.(C) XXXXXXXXXXXX said the appeals court judge will probably issue a CAIRO 00000135 002 OF 002 ruling during a scheduled February 18 court session. According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, Abbas is considering fleeing the country before February 18, because if the judge upholds the sentence, Abbas could be incarcerated immediately. XXXXXXXXXXXX told us he is advising Abbas to attend the February 18 appeal session because if Abbas is absent, the January 20 prison sentence would immediately take effect. However, XXXXXXXXXXXX has warned Abbas that the judge could uphold the six-month sentence February 18. XXXXXXXXXXXX noted that his NGO and Abbas plan to begin a publicity campaign January 30 to generate public Egyptian and international support for Abbas. The campaign will highlight the political dimension of the case, and that the appeal court session is scheduled for the day following the February 17 UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review of Egypt.

6.(C) On January 27, we demarched MFA Deputy Director for Human Rights Omar Shalaby on the case, noting our concern over the appearance of GOE retaliation against Abbas for his criticism of the government on his blog. Shalaby committed to responding to us after looking into the case. SCOBEY

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