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LOCAL MEMBERS MARK CENTENARY OF PRESS FREEDOM DEMONSTRATIONS

About 100 journalists, human rights activists and media personnel gathered in Cairo this week to mark the "100 Anniversary of Press Freedom Demonstrations in Egypt 1909", an event organised by IFEX members in Egypt the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR). It was held in cooperation with the Arab Affairs Committee of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate (EJS).

During the symposium, journalists, writers, poets and bloggers discussed how press freedom has deteriorated since 25,000 journalists and citizens marched for press freedom in 1909. The demonstrations, which lasted for a few days, were held in protest against the amendments to the Publication Law of 1909, which gave the authorities the ability to close newspapers. Local newspapers were considered "the voice of the public" during that period of British influence under the ruling Khedive.

This week's celebration was a reminder of the heroic struggle of the Egyptian journalists over the past 100 years, led by the late journalist Ahmed Helmy, who was charged for defaming the Khedive. Helmy was tried once more after a speech he made in one of the demonstrations in front of tens of thousands of citizens who came to Cairo from various governorates of Egypt. He became the first journalist jailed under the publication law.

Among the speakers at this year's event were journalists who have been charged with defamation or other free expression related charges, including Ibrahim Mansour, director of "al Dostour" newspaper; blogger Noura Younis; Hussain Abdul Ghani, head of the Al Jazeera office in Cairo; journalist and TV presenter Wael El Ebrashi; and Mohamed Hashim of Dar Merit Publishing House.

The organisers have also published a free documentary book for the event, including examples of articles and pictures published by the Egyptian press a century ago. For a copy of the centenary publication, contact ANHRI at: info (@) anhri.net

EOHR launched a report to coincide with the anniversary, recording 411 cases of violations against freedom of opinion and expression in Egypt during the past 10 years and the Egyptian laws used to prosecute violators. The report, "When will the presidential promise of 2004 turn into reality?", refers to the President's promise in 2004 to abolish imprisonment for cases related to publishing.

In the report, EOHR records 38 cases of ill-treatment and abuse of journalists, 33 cases of journalists before public prosecution and 168 cases of journalists before courts from 2000 to the present. EOHR also notes the confiscation of more than 130 books, the detention of bloggers and the grave violations committed against satellite channels. See EOHR's website at: http://en.eohr.org/

(1 April 2009)

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