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Ministry of Information prohibits media from reporting on recent kidnapping, later revokes decision

(ANHRI/IFEX) - ANHRI condemned a 23 September 2008 decision, issued by the Ministry of Information press office, prohibiting reporting on the recent kidnapping of 8 Egyptians and 11 foreign tourists.

The kidnapping, which occurred on 19 September, had already been reported by Egyptian and international media sources before the ban was issued. The ban represents a limitation on press freedom in Egypt and violates citizens' right to knowledge and access to information. According to ANHRI, the ban is also not legally valid, as the ministry's press office does not possess the authority to issue such a decision.

Only a few hours after the ban was announced, however, it was revoked. Egyptian journalists were shocked at the conflicting announcements, which seemed to demonstrate confusion on the part of the Ministry of Information.

"Issuing and then revoking this decision shows the lack of transparency present in the public sphere about press freedom; we are in a state of chaos and disorientation," said Ibrahim Mansour, executive director of "Addustour" newspaper.

"I received a phone call from the press office at the Ministry of Information at 1:00 pm yesterday notifying me of the decision to prohibit publishing on the kidnapping case, even though we already had the story prepared. Two hours later I received another call from the same office, telling me to disregard the ban and act like it had never been issued," said Yassir al-Zayat, editor-in-chief of "Al-Badeel" newspaper.

This is the third time in a two-month period that a decision to ban publishing on a news item has been announced. The first such order was issued by the Egyptian Prosecutor General and called for a ban on reporting on the 11 August 2008 murder of Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim. Another ban was issued, preventing the circulation of news about the 9 September indictment of an Egyptian businessman on charges of bribery.

Seven journalists from "Addustour", "Al-Tariq" and "Al-Badeel" newspapers were later investigated for breaking the publishing bans on these two cases. The third ban was revoked before any violations could take place.

"It is unjust to deprive Egyptian journalists of their right to publish in specific cases, while international news outlets continue to broadcast these stories," said ANHRI.

Therefore, said an ANHRI spokesperson, "We will proceed with the lawsuit filed with the Hisham Mubarak Law Center challenging the Prosecutor General's decision to prohibit reporting on Suzanne Tamim's murder, and will not stop until we obtain a ruling that ensures journalists' right to report on any story they choose. These bans threaten press freedom and are in violation of Constitutional articles that ensure press freedom in Egypt, as well as Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which Egypt has been a signatory for the past 27 years."

For further information on the limitations imposed on media reports on the Tamim case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/96034

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