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ANHRI and local partner hold seminar on press freedom

(ANHRI/IFEX) - Cairo, November 7, 2009 - The Library of the Legal Aid Unit of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), in cooperation with the Cultural Committee of the Intellectual System of Advocates, organized a seminar entitled, "Whither press freedom?". Lawyers, journalists and bloggers were invited to the event on 5 November 2009 at ANHRI's offices.

The seminar began with a presentation by Mr. Ahmed Seif al-Islam, a lawyer and human rights activist and director of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, who discussed the laws and constitutional provisions governing press freedom in Egypt. As well, he tackled professional dilemmas facing journalists, such as the bankruptcy of media companies. He also addressed the rights of journalists in such cases, referring to the example of the company that owned "Elbadeel" daily newspaper.

Mr. Seif also addressed the crisis of enrollment at the press syndicate. Many journalists have been working for a number of years without being able to affiliate with a trade union. Mr. Seif urged the syndicate to work to protect the rights of journalists.

Moreover, he talked about the current situation of press freedom in Egypt, where legal restrictions have impeded the full realization of this right.

Mr. Hamdi Assuiti, ANHRI's Legal Counsel, spoke next. He quoted the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, in which Egypt was ranked 146 out of 173 countries evaluated for press freedom. This gives a clear picture of the nature of press freedom in Egypt in light of legislative restrictions currently in place, including more than 32 articles contained within several laws, including the Penal Code, the press and publications law and even the law on women and children.

Given all these constraints on press freedom, the electronic media is considered a haven of freedom of expression.

Assuiti added that in countries other than Egypt, freedom of the press and freedom of expression come at the forefront of all freedoms and rights and are a tool for reforming society and monitoring the government's performance.

Assuiti also addressed the phenomenon of the increasing number of newspapers in Egypt, which reached 587 in 2007, consisting of daily, weekly and monthly publications. There are also state-owned publications, privately-owned ones and those affiliated with political parties, in addition to the publications licensed by foreign countries such as Cyprus or London.

He also addressed press freedom commitments in the Egyptian Constitution and international conventions, which stressed press freedom and the right to publish newspapers.

Then he mentioned the violations and assaults faced by journalists while doing their job, citing the example of journalist Seham Shouda, who was assaulted during her coverage on 4 May of the Administrative Court session on exporting gas to Israel.

Moreover, Assuiti mentioned that 2008 was the worst year for press freedom in Egypt because of the large number of cases filed by clergy men and members of the National Democratic Party against journalists.

The seminar ended with a discussion and comments from the audience about the extent of freedom guaranteed for journalists and writers.

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