Egypt's journalists' syndicate says new anti-terror law will curtail press freedoms

Ahram Online , Sunday 5 Jul 2015

The proposed legislation imposes a minimum two-year sentence as punishment for 'reporting false information on terrorist attacks which contradict official statements'

News photographers and journalists protest against the detention of photojournalist Abou Zeid, also known as "Shawkan", in front of the Press Syndicate in Cairo February 8, 2015 (File photo: Reuters)

The press syndicate has said a new anti-terror law Egypt is set to pass will trample on press freedoms and enable authorities to censor media.

The draft anti-terrorism legislation imposes a minimum two-year sentence as punishment for "reporting false information on terrorist attacks which contradict official statements.”

The law was approved by the cabinet last week after President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi pledged tougher legal measures to combat terrorism following the assassination of the country's top public prosecutor in a Cairo car-bomb attack.

This part of the law is believed to have been triggered by media coverage of last week's coordinated assaults by Islamic State militants in North Sinai which showed huge discrepancy between the official death toll of soldiers and that published by some local and foreign media outlets.

The military said the attacks, the deadliest in years in the restive region, killed 21 members of security forces and over 200 insurgents.

Observers say that if the law is approved, the new legislation will contravene the constitution.  

"This article [33] is an outright violation of the constitution, and will illegally impose a new a penalty to publishing crimes," said Gamal Abdel-Rehim, under-secretary of the Journalists' Syndicate.

"This way, the law will transform journalists into machines automatically publishing official statements without thinking. It denies them the right to obtain the information from different sources and restricts the [sourcing] process to one entity."

According to the Egyptian constitution, no press crime is punishable by custodial penalties. The charter, however, says there should only be punishment for press violations associated with "inciting violence, discrimination between citizens or libel" and that this should be defined by law.

The syndicate said in a Sunday statement that the law includes other loosely defined articles that undermine press freedoms and enables authorities to censor it.

These include items that impose jail terms for promoting  "terrorist crimes" verbally or in writing or "broadcasting content that is misleading to authorities" or "disrupting the course of justice."

Another article bans recording or broadcasting court hearings without court sanction, something Abdel-Rehim says entails "dangerous restrictions on media and press operation."

"Court hearings are public unless there is a gag order from the court or the top prosecutors," he said.

The law will be referred to the State Council, a judicial advisory body, for legal review, and will then await the president's approval before it can be passed by decree.

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