Journos banned from murder trial

Pop starlet's case puts Egypt in spotlight

DUBAI — The murder of a Lebanese pop starlet in July has gripped Arabs across the region as two suspects are put on trial and journalists are banned from covering the proceedings.

The trial opened in Cairo in October, after a billionaire Egyptian politician was charged with premeditating Suzanne Tamim’s murder in her Dubai apartment.

Egyptians were shocked with their government’s decision to charge a member of its ranks, Hisham Talaat Moustafa — a property tycoon and parliament member for Egypt’s ruling party.

Moustafa chairs the Economic Committee of the Shura Council, Egypt’s upper legislative house, but has been stripped of his parliamentary immunity to stand trial. The trial has been eyed throughout the Middle East as a test of the rule of law, and again has put Egypt in the spotlight for its unabashed restrictions on journalists and press freedom.

The Egyptian government has twice imposed a media blackout on the Tamim case, the last of which bans reporters from publishing any trial-related material except procedural decisions and the verdict.

It marks the fourth state-imposed press ban in Egypt in less than three months. Five journalists were interrogated and taken to trial last week for publishing a witness testimony, which the journalists say is a procedural matter and was also published by state newspapers. Two of them are editors-in-chief. At a Saturday hearing, their trial was adjourned until January as journalists gathered outside the courthouse to protest. Arab press freedom organizations have condemned the Egyptian state’s efforts to stifle reporting on the Tamim case, while the trial’s residing judge has said the media was unduly influencing public opinion.

The media ban may be the only way left for the state to protect Moustafa, who was chairman of Egypt’s largest publicly traded company, the Talaat Moustafa Group (TMG).

Moustafa appeared twice on Egyptian state television in August calling for an end to the spread of “false information.” A month later, he was charged with paying a former police officer $2 million to kill Tamim.

Both men deny the charges, and Moustafa’s brother has taken over TMG’s lead post. Company shares dropped to an all-time low in September, according to local reports. Moustafa and Tamim are said to have been in a relationship that turned turbulent, driving the singer to seek refuge in Dubai.

“These lies will not be able to move the great pyramids I have constructed in the Egyptian economy,” Moustafa told an Egyptian newspaper in September.

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