CAIRO, Egypt, (AP) – A judge has banned media coverage of the trial of an Egyptian tycoon with strong political ties who is accused of ordering the killing of a Lebanese pop star.
Cameras were kept out of the courtroom during Monday’s session, though dozens of reporters were allowed inside without mobile phones and audio recorders.
Judge al-Muhammadi Qunsuwa issued the gag order on Sunday. It bars journalists from reporting any details of the proceedings, though the judge said he would allow publication of the court’s procedural decisions and the final verdict.
The trial of Hisham Talaat Moustafa has drawn wide media attention across Egypt and the Middle East, where many were stunned by the arrest of the prominent real estate mogul and lawmaker.
Moustafa is a close friend of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s son, Gamal, and part of a powerful group long seen as above the law in Egypt’s hierarchical class-based society. He is also a member of the Shura Council, the parliament’s upper chamber.
Moustafa is charged with ordering the killing of Lebanese pop diva Suzanne Tamim, with whom he was said to have been romantically involved. Tamim was found stabbed to death in her Dubai apartment in July.
The prosecution alleges Moustafa paid a former Egyptian policeman, Mohsen el-Sukkary, $2 million to carry out the killing and helped him obtain visas and tickets as the ex-policeman trailed the singer to London and later to Dubai.
Egyptian authorities arrested the former policeman in August and charged him with murder. Dubai authorities said el-Sukkary was seen on a closed-circuit camera on the night of the murder entering the singer’s building in the emirate. Tamim’s friends say she moved there to break off her relationship with the married businessman.
A month later, Moustafa was stripped of his immunity as a lawmaker, arrested and charged with organizing the killing.
The publication ban surprised Egyptian reporters, used to having cameras and recorders allowed to roll freely in criminal court cases.
The ban was ordered shortly after a lawyer, who was inside the courtroom Sunday but not involved in the case, complained to the judge that someone had used the hearings to distribute a book arguing that Mustafa was innocent.
The objecting lawyer, Ra’fat Aziz, said the author of the book, Sameer al-Sheshtawy, was trying to influence public opinion by handing out copies of the book at the trial.
Meanwhile, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information on Monday condemned the reporting ban as “political” and said it violated press freedoms.
“The news blackout imposed in this case is purely for political and personal reasons,” said the group’s attorney, Radwa Ahmed. She indicated the trial has turned political because of Moustafa’s ties to the presidential family.
The group called for the ban to be lifted immediately.