(CIHRS/EOHR/HRinfo/IFEX) - The following is a joint action signed by 24 IFEX members and other organisations:
We, the undersigned members and partners of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), call on Egyptian President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak to enact his promise in 2004 to abolish imprisonment of journalists in publication cases, particularly with relation to "insult laws".
President Mubarak's introduction of a special law amending articles related to publishing crimes in the Penal Code, which annulled imprisonment for insulting civil servants (despite leaving in fines and extending the maximum limit), is considered a show of support for freedom of the press and journalists. However, there are still some other articles in the law in need of the President's intervention, particularly articles related to insulting presidents of states, which represents an obstacle to freedom of the press and expression.
Journalist and writer Ibrahim Issa, the Editor-in-Chief of "Al-Dostour", is facing a verdict of one year of imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 LE (approx. USD$1750). He is also facing a 2001 LE fine as temporary compensation in the case filed by a lawyer from el Warraa accusing Issa and Sahar Zaki, a journalist in the same newspaper, and Saied Mohamed Abdullah (the source of the article) of insulting and libelling the President of the Republic and the residences of el Warraa. The lawyer also accused them of "distribution of propaganda with intent to endanger public security or public welfare" (the Egyptian Penal Code Article 102). This case dates back to last April, when "Al-Dostour" published in its issue No. 55 (5/4/2006) a piece of news under the title "A Citizen from Warraa el Arab Demands the trial of the President and his Family, and returning 5 Billions LE, the value of the Public Sector and Foreign Aid". This piece of news was edited by Sahar Zaki, a journalist, and her source was Abdullah, the third suspect in the case. The case is still in court and the next hearing will be on 20 February 2007.
In a separate case, Issa and three other editors of independent newspapers are facing charges which may lead to their imprisonment. A lawyer who is close to the ruling National Democratic Party filed a complaint against them for allegedly insulting President Mubarak and some of his top aids. This lawyer accused Abdel Halim Kandeel, Editor-in-Chief of "Al-Karama", of insulting the President of the Republic; Adel Hamoda, Editor-in-Chief of "Al Fagr", of insulting the Prime-Minister; Wael El Abrashi, Editor-in-Chief of "Soat Al-Ommah", of insulting the Minister of Interior; and Ibrahim Issa of insulting Gamal Mubarak. On the 27th of December 2006, the Gamalia Court decided that it has no jurisdiction and deferred the case to the Agouza Court and a court hearing will be scheduled soon.
It is becoming clear that these legal harassments are suffered only by journalists belonging to opposition and independent newspapers, as there is not one single case where an editor-in-chief of a governmental newspaper is accused of insulting one of the opposition party leaders.
Accordingly, the undersigned organisations urge President Mubarak to implement his promise to initiate a law that puts an end to imprisonment as punishment in cases related to publishing crimes.
We also suggest forming a committee consisting of legal and legislative experts and human rights lawyers to review legislation concerned with press freedom and to bring it into conformity with international standards. Also, the practice of allowing journalists to be tried before military courts, and presenting civilians to military and exceptional courts, should be banned. We also call for an end to the criminalisation of press and media offences, to be replaced with an environment that encourages freedom of expression and promotes creativity in the fields of media and press. This would include allowing individuals to own and publish newspapers, and removing the bureaucratic and security obstacles which affect the right of corporate companies to publish newspapers; and drafting an access to information law to prevent the government from concealing information.
Signed by the following IFEX Members and other organisations:
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Egypt
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo.net), Egypt
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Egypt
Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN, United Kingdom
Ethiopian Free press Journalists Association (EFJA), Ethiopia
Cartoonists Rights Network (CRN) International
World Association of Newspapers (WAN), France
Independent Journalism Center (IJC), Moldova
Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), Greece
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), United States
Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de création (OLPEC), Tunisia
Conseil national pur les libertés en Tunisie (CNLT), Tunisia
Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka
ARTICLE 19, United Kingdom
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), Philippines
Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), Hong Kong
PEN Canada, Canada
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Bahrain
Norwegian PEN, Norway
International Press Institute (IPI), Austria
Arab Archives Institute (AAI), Jordan
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
Reporters sans frontières (RSF)
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights