Egypt parliament committee rejects abolishing of jail terms for ‘violating public decency’

Ahram Online , Monday 28 Nov 2016

The Egyptian parliament’s constitutional and legislative affairs committee rejected on Monday proposals by two MPs to abolish jail terms for those convicted of publishing materials that “violate public decency,” state news agency MENA reported.

The two MPs, Nadia Henry and Ahmed Saeid, had also proposed that private citizens not be allowed to file cases accusing others of violating public decency, leaving it up to prosecutors to initiate legal proceedings in such cases.

Although the parliamentary committee rejected the abolishing of jail terms, it agreed that only the prosecution should be allowed to initiate legal procedures in these cases.

The MPs who made the proposal argued that Article 178 of penal code 58, which allows imprisonment for publishing-related cases, is unconstitutional as it restricts freedom of expression.

The proposal by the MPs recommended only a fine not exceeding EGP 50,000 be imposed in such cases.

“If [the late Egyptian literary heavyweight] Naguib Mahfouz was still among us, he would face trial, as his novels included material that would be deemed as violating public morals,” a Monday statement by the MPs said.

Article 178 of penal code 58 states that “whoever makes or holds, for the purpose of trade, distribution, leasing, pasting or display, [materials]… against public morals, shall be punished with detention for a period not exceeding two years and a fine of [EGP 5,000 to EGP 50,000].”

A campaign to change this law was launched earlier this year following the imprisonment of writer Ahmed Naji for publishing a “sexually explicit article” in a literary state newspaper.

The prosecutor accused Naji of publishing “a text that spewed sexual lust and transient pleasures, using his mind and pen to violate public decency and good morals, inciting promiscuity.”

The third appeal filed by Naji's defence team to suspend the implementation of the sentence was overruled last Saturday.

The initial decision to refer Naji to court came after one of the newspaper's readers filed a legal complaint claiming that reading the text caused him to “experience heart palpitations and an extreme feeling of sickness along with a sharp drop in blood pressure.”

An online campaign titled “Egypt art on trial” has been launched in solidarity with Naji and stands “against the existence of the charge of ‘violating public modesty,’ and that Article 178 of the criminal code restricts the freedom of writing and creativity, contradicts the Egyptian constitution and should be amended.”

In late April, Naji's defence team filed an appeal before the Court of Cassation, though a court session to hear the motion has not yet been set.

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