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Journalists fined for practicing without syndicate membership

(ANHRI/IFEX) - The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) denounces a ruling which ordered three journalists from the local "Al Bahrawya" newspaper to be fined after they were charged with practicing journalism without being members of the journalists' syndicate.

The Misdemeanors Court of Damanhour fined Dr. Zuhdi al-Shami, chair of "Al Bahrawya's" board, along with two of the paper's reporters. The paper is owned by the Atagamou political party in Damanhour. Radwa Mahmoud Abu Zeid and Mahmoud Dwyer, both reporters with the paper, were fined 300 Egyptian pounds (approx. US$50) each. The lawsuit, which was filed by journalist Said Hassan, accused Dr. Zuhdi al-Shami of hiring editors at the newspaper and allowing them to practice without being registered at the syndicate. He accused both Radwa Mahmoud Abu Zeid and Mahmoud Dwyer of impersonating journalists.

ANHRI considers this case to be a good example of the absurdity of Press Association Law No. 76 of 1970, which stipulates that no one may practice the profession of journalism without being a member of the syndicate.

Violation of the law is punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding 300 pounds, or both. The same penalty is also applied to any person who impersonates a journalist while not being registered at the journalists' syndicate.

Meanwhile, the syndicate has imposed restrictions on journalists wishing to join; it requires that a journalist must be sponsored by another member and have an archive of published stories. This situation poses difficulties for many journalists who practice the profession and make a living from it but who have not been sponsored. Some journalists have being practicing for as many as 15 years without being affiliated with a syndicate and consequently are at risk of penalty under this law.

ANHRI calls for the journalists' syndicate to intervene to abolish or at least modify Press Association Law No. 76, which represents a serious violation of freedom of expression. As well, the law which was enacted during the era of the Socialist Union, is no longer appropriate under current political and social conditions.

ANHRI's Legal Aid Unit has called the ruling unconstitutional and intends to appeal it.

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