Egypt: Further Violations Of Freedom Of Opinion And Expression

Alaa Kamal 30\10\2009
From bad to worse the states of freedom of opinion and expression in Egypt are moving,more towards gagging  and inhibition and trying journalists.
There is no Egyptian journalist, whatever his position , who is prone to facing trials and imprisonment for disclosing facts and doing their jobs which was provided for by  all the international legislations to be respected and protected.
A few days ago, and according to AlBadeel blog, Shorouk newspaper, and the network of Arab Journalists , the misdemeanor Court of Dokki sentenced in absentia the businessman Mohamed Ahmed Omar, owner of "the Al Haitham Contracting Company to a year in prison, the great columnist Salama Ahmed Salama, editor of Shorouk, and Saber Mash’hour, a reporter of Shorouk.The first defendant was accused of hoax reporting , second and third of insult and slander .
According to legal documents, the Administrative Control Authority arrested Mohamed Ahmed Omar caught offering bribe to some officials of the ministry of housing.
In state security investigations, he admitted offering  $ 25000 pounds to Adel Ali Najjar Director of the facilities department at  businessman Hussein  Sabbour Corp. In response to the report published in Shorouk on 31/3/2009, Adel Ali al-Najjar and 17 others, filed a case against the Salama. The report claimed that the prosecutors received LE 10 million on the construction of the National Project for Housing 6th of October City which they  considered insult and libel to them. it is to be mentioned that Ali Naggar is accused of receicing bribe money  in the  case 61/2009 , which was adjourned to 3/11/2009.
The sentence stirred debate in all intellectual circles , in the Egyptian press circles and among those concerned with freedom of opinion and expression. Prominent Egyptian journalists confirmed that prison gates are still wide open for journalists despite  publishing correct news, since the law contains many articles that permit the imprisonment of journalist, including his imprisonment on charges of influencing the course of the investigation. This is the argument that sentenced them to journalists Shorouk, where the newspaper published a story about the intention of the State Security Prosecution to refer the accused to the criminal court, which is what actually happened. However , one of the defendants considered the publishing influenced the conduct of investigations.
The editor of “Adostor” Egyptian paper said that  that Egypt was among the 13 countries in the region continues to insist on legislation to imprison journalists. The  existence of articles  that imprison journalists in the penal code is evidence of the existence of the bad intentions against freedom of the press. We are pro holding the journalist  accountable if the journalist  was erroneous and we would go for  tougher financial fines  but sure we are against  detention.
He stressed that,” the Penal Code as it now stands, contains artivcles that would sentence to prison a journalist who published true news. In the  foggy information atmosphere  in which we live, we find that these articles play a major role in the putting any journalist to trial and imprisonment, even for true reporting . Issa asked about the reason for delaying the implementation of the presidential promise since 2004 to abolish imprisonment of journalists.
The editor of Al Ahram AlIktsadi that  the penal code is an obsolete arsenal of  anti- press freedom weapons .
The problem  is in the  articles of the penal code  some dating to 1882 with the British occupation of  Egypt as well as articles that have been developed in 1914 with the outbreak of the First World War ,adopting the liberal British heritage.
Following , the July  movement in 1952 provided for muzzling of the press by articles  added in 1954 and 1956 . July officers added the worst punitive articles to  journalists.
In this regard, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights issued a statement that this sentence  was an affirmation that the State violated the freedom of opinion and expression and circulation of information and the right to know and  demanded  a halt to such practices.
President Mubarak promised to abolish such articles in February 2004 in order to  protect freedom of the press and journalists complying with  the constitution and international conventions, which guaranteed the right to freedom of opinion and expression, with only limited fine, penalties,  particularly as affected by publishing has  the right to reply in the same newspaper.
Accordingly, the organization appeals to the Egyptian government and the journalists union and all bodies of society to work together to eliminate prison sentences for publishing crimes that President Mubarak had promised to abolish in February 2004, and to seek civil penalties, in consistency with the international conventions on human rights, with emphasis on the importance of introducing legislative amendments to articles that punish journalists with imprisonment in every law regulating  expression, publishing and printing.
Dialogue forum for development and human rights, despite the fact that the verdict can be appealed but it is remarkable that going to court became the first choice to correct news and reply to them, which confirms the absence of the values of tolerance toward what is published in newspapers.
Since the published facts  dealt with public concern and an issue of interest to citizens and the press had not encroached on others rights, the Forum  called on Journalists Syndicate and the organizations of civil society in solidarity with the journalists, where freedom of the press at legal and judicial risk. The head of the Forum expected more of judicial measures against journalists in the coming period.This serious issue must be addressed and it is the responsibility of the Press Syndicate  to defend the press's role as honest and impartial medium to express  concerns and problems of citizens and society.