Joint Action: Thirty-seven IFEX members call for end to jailing of journalists under criminal defamation laws; conviction of journalist upheld by appeals court
Call for End to Jailing of Journalists Under Criminal Defamation Laws
We, the undersigned 37 organisations, members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), condemn the ongoing violations of freedom of expression in Egypt, as illustrated by the current set of criminal defamation cases.
On 28 September 2008, the conviction of Ibrahim Issa, editor-in-chief of the daily "Al-Dustour", was upheld by an appeals court in Cairo, and he was sentenced to serve two months of a six-month prison sentence. While we welcome the decision to reduce the prison sentence, we continue to protest the use of criminal law to jail journalists for any length of time for what they write. Issa was sentenced on 26 March 2008 for "publishing false information and rumours" about President Hosni Mubarak's health in articles written between 28 and 30 August 2007.
On 11 October 2008, a criminal defamation case will be heard against Adel Hammouda, editor-in-chief of "Al Fagr" weekly newspaper, and journalist Mohamed El Baz, which was filed by the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, the highest religious authority in Egypt.
In 2007, the Sheikh of Al Azhar, Mohamed Sayed Tantawy, filed a case against Hammouda and El Baz, accusing them of "defamation and insult" of the Honourable Institution of Al-Azhar. The case started after the publication of an article in "Al Fagr" on 19 March 2007, entitled "the Grand Sheikh of the Vatican". The article included fabricated photos of the Sheikh of Al-Azhar wearing a uniform that was considered by the Sheikh as "contradicting his position," and an "insult that damaged the prestige of the position."
The case filed by the Sheikh of Al-Azhar is based on article 184 of the Penal Code, which states that: "A penalty of imprisonment and a fine of not less than 5,000 pounds and not more than 10,000 pounds or both for anyone who insulted . . . the People's Assembly or the Shura Council or other statutory bodies, the army or the courts or authorities or public interests."
In yet another case, Adel Hammouda and Ibrahim Issa are among four editors-in-chief of independent newspapers who are facing one year of imprisonment. In September 2007, Hammouda and Issa, along with editors Wael al-Abrashi of the weekly "Soat al-Ommah", and Abdel Halim Kandeel, former editor of the weekly "Al-Karama", each received a one-year prison sentence after they were found guilty of "publishing false information likely to disturb public order." They appealed their convictions and have been free on bail pending the outcome of the appeal. The next court session is scheduled to take place on 4 October 2008.
They were sentenced under Article 188 of the Egyptian Penal Code, which stipulates that anyone who "malevolently publishes false news, statements or rumours that are likely to disturb public order" will be punished by imprisonment for up to one year and a fine that would not exceed 20,000 Egyptian pounds.
We express our deepest concern about the deterioration of freedom of opinion and expression in Egypt, where the objective of the current law appears to be to punish journalists and not to defend freedom of opinion and expression.
Accordingly, we urge the Egyptian authorities to drop all the charges and overturn the politically-motivated prison sentences. The Egyptian state should refrain from using the Penal Code to criminalise freedom of expression and freedom of the press. The government must abide by its international obligations as a signatory of international documents related to freedom of expression, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Africa Free Media Foundation (AFMF), Kenya
Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), Indonesia
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Egypt
ARTICLE 19, UK
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Bahrain
Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI), Brazil
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS, Egypt
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada
Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES), Nepal
Center for Journalism and Public Ethics (CEPET), Mexico
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), United States
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Egypt
Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka
Freedom House, USA
Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), Greece
Human Rights Watch, USA
Independent Journalism Center (IJC), Moldova
Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS), Azerbaijan
International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech (Adil Soz), Kazakhstan
International PEN Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC), UK
International Press Institute (IPI), Austria
Journaliste en danger (JED), DR Congo
Maharat Foundation, Lebanon
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Ghana
Media Institute, Kenya
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Namibia
Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Nigeria
Media Watch, Bangladesh
Mizzima News, India/Burma
Norwegian PEN, Norway
Observatory for the Freedom of Press, Publishing and Creation in Tunisia (OLPEC),
Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), Pakistan
Paraguayan Union of Journalists (SPP), Paraguay
PEN American Center, USA
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), Canada
World Association of Newspapers (WAN), France
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), USA
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights