CAIRO, Oct 7 (Reuters) More than 20 independent and opposition Egyptian newspapers refrained from publishing today to protest what they call a government crackdown on press freedoms.
An Egyptian court last month sentenced four newspaper editors to one year in prison for defaming President Hosni Mubarak and his politician son, drawing condemnation from human rights groups.
''Independent newspapers have gained some space over the past few years but Mubarak is trying to roll that back,'' said Hisham Kassem, former publisher of independent paper Al Masry Al Youm and the English-language Cairo Times.
''A clear position has been taken within the independent papers that it won't be accepted.'' The White House last month said it was concerned about what it called setbacks on press freedom and civil society in Egypt.
The Egyptian government dismissed the criticism as unacceptable interference in internal affairs.
''We are calling on the government to implement the promise of President Mubarak to end the imprisonment of journalists,'' said Ahmed Enany, board member of the Egyptian Press Syndicate.
''The government should not scare journalists and should let them work in a free environment.'' Egypt has stepped up what many critics say is a campaign against independent newspapers over the last month.
Some analysts have linked the cases to possible plans for a transfer of power from Mubarak to his 43-year-old son Gamal, who denies having presidential ambitions.
REUTERS JK RK1635