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Journalists denied union membership in reprisal for their critical reporting

(AHNRI/IFEX) - The following is a 20 October 2008 joint press release by ANHRI and the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement (EACPE):

Journalists go on hunger strike today in protest of the refusal by the Journalist Union to grant them membership

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement (EACPE) express their resentment for the way new journalists are granted membership to the sole journalists' union in Egypt. The selection has been allegedly oriented by politics and nepotism instead of the rules that regulate membership for new journalists. The procedure has led those journalists who have been refused union membership to go on a hunger strike until the union changes the application process and starts applying the laws and rules that give journalists the right to enjoy membership in the union.

The committee for the registration of new union members held a meeting where it looked at new membership application forms to ensure that they were in accordance with the rules stipulated by the Journalist Union Law. However, the large number of new membership applications (about 278 journalists) allegedly made the committee put the rules aside and instead resort to looking at journalists' political affiliation (VS resorted to political background and nepotism in accepting new members to the union. This political orientation made journalists affiliated with independent newspapers such as "Ad-dustour Al-Badil," as well as partisan newspaper "al-Ghad," pay the price for their critical stances given the committee's decision to refuse union membership to 19 journalists of the three newspapers. Meanwhile, all new journalists working for government-controlled newspapers were granted membership.

Khalid Albalshi, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper "Al-Badil," which saw 10 of its journalists being refused union membership, said: "It is a strange, unfair and unlawful situation. Our journalists have good records; their documents comply with the rules. There is no clear justification for the commission of the union to turn down new members. The union should obey bylaws and statutes."

ANHRI and EACPE said, "The only justification that the registration committee of the union gave is that applying a quota system is illegal. What controls membership procedures is the law and not a quota. This violation committed by the same union that is supposed to protect journalists will damage its credibility. It opens the door for speculations about security interferences in the approval of new journalists."

Although the Egyptian government largely applies a free-market system and is committed to privatization, it still denies professional syndicates the right to have a diversity of members. This situation puts professionals, including journalists, in a critical position when they are deprived of union membership, denying them the few privileges conferred to them by law. The government is especially launching attacks against freedom of the press by prosecuting journalists in criminal courts under the pretext that they do not have a journalists' union membership.

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