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Egypten - Pressefrihed

EGYPT: Special report on press freedom

IRINnews.org, 16. august 2005

Mange jounalister har udvist stor ængstelse for pressefriheden i forbindelse med kampagnen op til presidentvalget i Egypten til november.

Khaled El-Sergany reviews all Egyptian newspapers daily and publishes a critique every week in the al-Dostour newspaper. - ©  IRIN
CAIRO, 16 Aug 2005 (IRIN) - With presidential and legislative elections fast approaching, journalists are concerned about current legislation governing the press in Egypt, which they feel could seriously affect reporting during this crucial period.

The local press still faces restrictions on several levels, according to local and international media watchdog groups.

Journalists face many forms of legal action that could result in heavy fines or imprisonment, according to a report published in June by the Egyptian Organisation for Human Right (EOHR).

This, it states, despite empty promises from the government of President Hosni Mubarak to make change on this front.

"This government promises to reform Egypt's press law and other laws that have been used to prosecute and imprison journalists, but nothing has been done,” head of the Journalists’ Syndicate, Galal Aref said more than a year ago.


Yet the promise on a freer press has not been fulfilled.

New legislation was passed earlier this year consolidating the possibility of imprisoning journalists for their writing.

According to the new law covering political activity, anyone who publishes defamatory information on elections, referendums or any of the candidates could face imprisonment of no less than six months and a fine that ranges between US $173 and $865.

Many fear this will have a major impact on reporting for the presidential election in September and the legislative ballot in November.

“One of the roles of the press is to expose corruption and misdemeanours,” Gamal Eid, Director of the Arab Human Rights Information Network, said. "This law will definitely affect the press when covering elections, especially because there is no legal definition of what constitutes defamation," he explained.

"This leaves the field open to definition according to the political environment in which the law is being implemented and since the ceiling for liberties is currently very low, any criticism could be interpreted as defamation," he warned.


Mubarak has on several occasions stated that Egypt enjoys press freedom and that he would reject any action undermining independence and freedom of expression.

However, journalists say the leader has not stuck to his word.

"Journalists in Egypt suffer numerous forms of discrimination including unfairness in legislation… judicial prosecution of journalists for their writing and opinions, assault and death threats and sexual assault of female journalists," the report from EOHR said.

"Egyptian legislation regulating journalism has deteriorated as a result of subsequent amendments implemented since 1991," Mohammad Mounieb, President of the African Centre for Human Rights Studies said.

Law 96 of 1996 governing the press stipulates a one year imprisonment for defamation and two years if a public official files a suit. Other articles in the penal code provide for the imprisonment of journalists for “violating public morality” and “damaging national interests”.

According to a 2002 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), seven Egyptian reporters were sentenced to imprisonment for libel and other criminal offences between 1998 and 2001-a trend which has increased in recent months.

"In the last eight months, 22 journalists and writers have been summoned by the prosecutor to undergo investigations in defamation cases as a result of them publishing articles criticising political officials," said Eid.

According to EOHR, Ahmed Ezz Eddin, a journalist for the independent weekly al-Osboa, was sentenced on 16 June 2004, to two years imprisonment and fined $3,460 for publishing investigative reports about the former Minister of Agriculture, Youssef Wali, who subsequently accused him of defamation.

The court convicted Ezz Eddin, even though he presented many documents confirming and supporting allegations published in his stories, human rights activists say.

The report also described the case of Mahmoud al-Asqalany’s, a journalist with the opposition Nasserist weekly al-Araby. He was also convicted of libel after writing articles critical of Minister of Housing Ibrahim Suleiman, and his brother-in-law Diaa al-Mouneiry.


Journalists not only face legal obstacles but are also exposed to physical attacks, the June EOHR report stated.

The latest incident of assaults against journalists was during the 25 May referendum on the constitutional amendment paving the way for freely contested presidential elections.

The report and international organisations said that journalists covering demonstrations of the opposition movement, Kifaya (Enough) were physically assaulted. In addition, female journalists were sexually harassed by security officers.

Following the incident, the Egyptian government said reaction to the “unacceptable” violence in May was overstated.

"Such allegations [about assaults], if they occurred, would be unacceptable," Suleiman Awad, the spokesman for the prime minister, told the Egyptian state-run media on 28 May. "Certain foreign media exaggerated attacks against opposition party members on referendum day," he added.

Cairo did however, launch an investigation into the referendum violence.

"These violations were committed with clear disregard for Article 6 of Press Law 96 which states that ‘journalists are independent and not under the authority of anyone.’ Article 7 of the same law provides: “Within the limits of the law, a journalist’s opinion or truthful information published by him may not be a reason for a violation of his personal security, and he must not be forced to disclose the sources of his information,” the EOHR report stated in reference to the above incident.

This was not the first time journalists have been assaulted while conducting their work.

In 2003 the International Press Institute’s (IPI) reported that Lena al-Ghadban,broadcaster for the Qatar-based Arab tv channel, al-Jazeera, had her documents and equipment confiscated following coverage of an anti government demonstration.

Foreign journalists also can face random arrests by state security.

The IPI review said that on 4 April, Philipe Ide, journalist for the British-based Mail on Sunday, was arrested after leaving a meeting with the relatives of a recently arrested Islamist. His camera was confiscated and never returned.


"Even if all laws limiting press freedom in Egypt are eliminated, journalists will still suffer from self censorship," said Mohammed Shamroukh, a journalist for the state owned daily al-Ahram newspaper.

Journalists have become so accustomed to limitations imposed on them that it would be difficult for them to change their writing habits, he explained.

Ola al-Shafie, a journalist for the al-Ahram al-Araby magazine, talked about the process of self censorship within her magazine.

"There are taboos concerning political, religious and sexual issues," she said. "This has become even more obvious these days as presidential elections are getting closer and as we are further discussing our policy of covering this important event."

Al-Shafie said news editors constantly feel the need to consult with their superiors in fear that they might make a politically incorrect decision.

"We face similar problems when covering sexual issues," she added. "Once a line was removed from an article written by a colleague because it was a question on whether a woman would continue in her marriage if her husband was impotent".

According to al-Shafie, these taboos affect how they cover stories. "There are issues that I would totally avoid. I am also very careful with the choice of my words."

The legal environment in Egypt also supports self censorship. Eid of the Arab Human Rights Information Network explained how the burden of proof lies with the journalist in defamation cases

"The writer or journalist has to prove their good intention when criticising an official,” he said. “Accordingly, most of them are very careful when criticising someone – others avoid criticism all together."

Government supporters, however, say that all this criticism is exaggerated and, in fact, the press is freer now than it has been in decades.

In an article published in al-Ahram on 14 August, Anis Mansour, former editor-in-chief of the Mayo newspaper, the official mouthpiece of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), said that before Mubarak’s rule no one would have ever dared to write critically.


The EOHR report published several recommendations to help alleviate restrictions imposed on press. This includes implementing Mubarak's promise to abolish prison sentences and replace them with civil penalties.

"Punishments should be restricted to fines, which should not exceed a certain limit, especially since the injured party has the right to publish his/her response in the same newspaper and bring a civil claim for appropriate compensation in a civil court where it is proved that the journalist has breached journalists’ code of ethics," the report said.

Moneib also called for international intervention on this issue.

"Egypt is a state party to the international covenant on civil and political rights and has international obligations in ensuring freedom of expression. We should use that," he said.

© IRIN - This article appeared originally on IRIN News.org and is published by engelund.dk according a general agreement. To view the original article, please click here.
IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks) is a project of UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
[This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]


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Opdateret d. 3.10.2005