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Journalists, civil society groups call for freedom of information coalition

(EOHR/IFEX) - At the end of a seminar entitled "Towards a free information society" held by The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) on 22 November 2009 at EOHR's office, a number of journalists, media workers, legal experts, representatives of Parliament, IT professionals and human rights activists agreed to establish a freedom of information coalition based on international standards of freedom of information. Conference attendants called on the government to draft the necessary legislation and to allow public debate on the issue.

The conference was organised in cooperation with the Center for Media Freedom in the Middle East and North Africa – Morocco, with the support of the Beyster Institute - California University.

Mr. Hafez Abu Seada, Secretary General of EOHR, said that the freedom to circulate information and data was basic to any democratic system and constituted the most important tool for citizens to exercise their full rights of citizenship.

Abu Seada added that in reviewing the status of freedom of information in Egypt, EOHR found that the legal system had several laws that violated the principle of the freedom to access information, including:

Law No. 121 of 1975, as amended by Law No. 22 of 1983 and presidential decision No. 472 of 1979 on the preservation of official documents of the State and their publication, Law No. 356 of 1954 and Law No. 35 of 1960 on Statistics and the Census, the Civil Servants Law No. 47 of 1978, and the General Intelligence Law No. 100 of 1971. Abu Seada pointed out that journalists and media workers faced obstacles in accessing information.

The secretary general confirmed the importance of establishing an Egyptian coalition for freedom of information, which would undertake the following:

1- Reviewing and amending all laws and procedures that impede access to information, to comply with international covenants on human rights ratified by the Egyptian government, according to article 151 of the Constitution;

2- Passing a bill guaranteeing free circulation of information that reflects standards in democratic societies;

3- Revising the legislative framework governing freedom of opinion and expression in general and freedom of the press in particular.

Abu Seada also called for action on a campaign promise by President Mubarak to enact a freedom of information law.

At the end of the seminar, participants called on all civil society organisations, journalists and all those concerned to join the coalition; plans were made for a legal committee to be formed under the coalition to ensure that the freedom of information bill is passed. The first meetings of the coalition will be held soon to draft the document.

To view the full statement

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