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US Criticizes Conviction, Jailing of Egyptian Legislator

The United States Wednesday criticized the imprisonment of an opposition member of the Egyptian parliament on charges of defaming the military. Legislator Talat Sadat, a nephew of the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, was sentenced to a year in prison by a military court on Tuesday.

In blunt criticism of a major U.S. Middle East ally, the State Department says it is extremely concerned that an Egyptian lawmaker has been convicted and sentenced by a criminal tribunal merely for expressing his opinions.

The comments came a day after a military court ordered Talat Sadat jailed for a year for defaming the Egyptian military by implicating it in his uncle's 1981 assassination in Cairo.

The 52-year-old lawmaker, a harsh critic of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his ruling party, leveled the charges of military complicity in interviews in October marking the 25th anniversary of his uncle's death.

The younger Sadat has a reputation for making sweeping conspiracy charges against the Cairo government, and had also suggested a U.S. role in the Anwar Sadat killing, a charge rejected earlier here as offensive and patently false.

However, briefing reporters Wednesday, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said freedom of speech is a fundamental democratic value. "The keystone of a democratic society is the right to free speech, including the right to criticize one's government, and that extends to its military. Our concerns about issues pertaining to free speech and to the rule of law are well-known, certainly in Egypt as well as elsewhere around the world."

Spokesman McCormack said he understood that U.S. concerns about the treatment of Talat Sadat had been conveyed to Egyptian officials through diplomatic channels but did not provide details.

He said the United States has raised other human rights cases with the Mubarak government in the past, including that of Ayman Nour, the main challenger to Mr. Mubarak in last year's presidential election who was sentenced to five years in prison last December on forgery charges.

McCormack said the Egyptian government knows where the United States stands on such cases and that U.S. officials will continue to speak out on them.

But he said ultimately the Egyptian government and people will have to agree on the changes and accommodations to govern daily political life.

The spokesman said he was unaware of any consideration of reducing U.S. aid to Egypt because of the Sadat case.

Some members of the U.S. Congress have proposed cutting Egypt's $1.7 billion annual aid package because of a general lack of progress on democratic reform.

An effort to trim the program by $200 million was narrowly defeated by the House of Representatives in June.