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New journalism law sparks anger in Egypt

July 18, 2018 at 10:32 am

Journalists take part in a protest outside the Syndicate of Journalists in Cairo, Egypt [AFP/Getty]

Half of the members of the Journalists Union Council have rejected amendments made by the House of Representatives to the journalism law.

They stressed that the government had developed “mock amendments” that kept the essence of articles restricting the freedom of journalism.

A member of the Union’s Council, Mohamed Saad Abdel Hafiz, said that the journalism and information law is “an assassination of journalism”. He stressed that “the articles of the law violate the independence of the profession, restrict freedom of opinion and expression, and make the executive authority a watchdog on press institutions”.

He added: “We should have stood up against the law from the first day. We can acquire the best lessons from our predecessors, when journalists during the rule of Mubarak stood up against a similar law in 1993. They held sit-ins with their union and demonstrated until it was cancelled.”

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Another member of the council, Amr Badr, considered that “shame will follow anyone who participated, accepted, stood with, supported, or was reluctant to stand against a law which is destructive to journalism.”

Badr told Quds Press that “the battle is still long and ongoing”.

Union member Abdel Mohsen Salama described the amendments as “concessions”. Salama said in a press statement on Sunday that an article which requires journalists to obtain permission to go to any event they wish to cover had been amended and now provides for obtaining a permit to “reach restricted-filming areas”.

Article 19 has provoked protests by journalists and social media leaders and states that “newspapers, media outlets, or websites are prohibited from publishing or broadcasting fake news or advocating or inciting a violation of the law, or violence, or hatred”. This means that any citizen who writes a dissenting opinion on Facebook that the authorities consider as “fake news,” could be arrested.

The provisions of this article cover every personal online account or personal blog with 5,000 followers or more, according to the law.

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One of the most important defects that the House of Representatives has retained, despite the Journalists Unions’ amendments, is article 29 on pre-trial detention. The Council presented a circumvention text, in which the word “pre-trial” was deleted. It left the text of the article so vague that it could be interpreted by interrogators in a way that allows detaining journalists on fabricated charges, according to a statement by half of the members of the Journalists Union Council.

MPs also retained the formulation of article 5, paragraph 23, of the National Press Agency’s law, which gave it the right to “cancel and merge institutions and press releases”, opening the door to the privatisation of national institutions and the dismissal of hundreds of their employees.

Articles 4, 5 and 19 allow the prevention of circulation and withdrawal of licenses and the blocking of public and personal websites.

A Human Rights Watch report criticised the Egyptian authorities’ use of anti-terror laws and the emergency law which is used to prosecute journalists, activists, and opponents for their peaceful criticism.

The organisation said in a statement it issued on Monday evening: “These abusive practices that distort counterterrorism measures are occurring at the same time that Egypt is heading one of the main UN committees to ensure compliance with counter-terrorism resolutions, and while the UN’s top counterterrorism official has been visiting Egypt.”

The organisation documented that dozens of activists and journalists who were brought to trial on terrorism-related charges have been detained since 2015 because of their peaceful criticism or opposition to the authorities when the new anti-terrorism law was issued.