Secretary-General of the Constituent Assembly Amr Darrag (Photo: Ahram Arabic News Website)
The Egyptian Journalists Syndicate's demand to add an article to Egypt's draft constitution banning the imprisonment of journalists for press-related offenses would be considered "discrimination in favour of a particular professional class," Amr Darrag, secretary-general of Egypt's Constituent Assembly (which wrote the draft national charter), told reporters on Tuesday.
"When it was suggested in the assembly that an article be added to ban the imprisonment of journalists for publishing-related lawsuits, assembly members argued that this would amount to discrimination in favour of the journalism sector," Darrag, a former MP and leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, said at a Tuesday press conference.
"For example, if an engineer mis-designs a building, should we also write into the constitution that he should not be imprisoned as well?" Darrag asked.
He went on to say that the issue of legal sanctions for publishing-related offences was one that "should be referred to the law, not the constitution."
"Currently, public opinion is not in favour of banning such punishments [for press-related offenses], but we hope the law regarding this matter will be amended in the future," he added.
The draft constitution, which was approved on 30 November by Egypt's Islamist-led Constituent Assembly and which is set to be put before a popular referendum on 15 December, does not include articles explicitly banning the imprisonment of journalists, as has been demanded by many journalists.
Twelve Egyptian newspapers and five television channels have announced plans to stage one-day strikes – on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively – to express their opposition both to President Mohamed Morsi's 22 November constitutional declaration and the draft constitution.
In addition to the strike, hundreds of journalists gathered outside the Press Syndicate's downtown headquarters on Tuesday afternoon before marching to Tahrir Square to voice their rejection of Morsi's controversial constitutional declaration.
On 20 November, the syndicate announced the withdrawal of its representatives from the Constituent Assembly, citing the assembly's refusal to heed the syndicate's recommendations.
Criticising what it described as "violations of freedom of expression" in the current draft constitution, syndicate members denounced the assembly's alleged disregard for journalists' demands to protect press independence, prohibit the closing down of media outlets and the confiscation of newspaper editions.
Nevertheless, Darrag asserted on Tuesday: "We have met 90 per cent of journalists' demands regarding the constitution."