March 31, 1998
In the context of the continuing attack on the freedom of the press and the right of citizens to publish newspapers, the President of the General Authority for Investment and Free Zones issued Decree no. 175/1998 (see attachment) prohibiting the printing of newspapers and magazines, of whatever type or in whatever language, within the free zones. As a result of this decree, tens of newspapers and magazines which are published in Egypt under a foreign press license and printed in the free zones are faced with the prospect of either stopping publishing or suffering the consequences of printing outside Egypt, in addition to the threat that the foreign publications censorship authorities may prevent the distribution of their publication within Egypt for various reasons contained within Egyptian law.
This decree comes as part of a recent chain of measures aimed at the Egyptian press under the pretext of clamping down on the so-called ‘yellow press’ or ‘sex and scandal’ press. The decree is striking in that it targets all Egyptian newspapers and magazines which have been granted foreign publishing licenses and were printing within the free zones in order to escape the severe legal restrictions on publishing and distributing newspapers in Egypt. The legal obstacles to the freedom to publish newspapers in Egypt are laid down in Law 96/1996 regulating the press, and Law 159/1981 regulating joint stock companies, recently amended in January 1998 to stipulate that the establishment of any joint stock company in the field of the press must first obtain permission from the cabinet of ministers. The list of publications subject to this decree include a large number of publications of various types, such as satellite television guides, magazines concerned with architecture, interior decoration, agriculture, stock market news, and fashion, and cultural and general interest magazines, all of which are published in English and are of a non-controversial character, together with publications, such as, Cairo Times, Middle East Times, and Egypt Today.
The Center for Human Rights Legal Aid (CHRLA) fiercely opposes this decree as a restriction on individuals to practice their right to publish newspapers, as well as a violation on the right of citizens to freedom of access to information. CHRLA believes that the measures banning the distribution, publishing, or printing of newspapers represents an unjustified violation of the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression, even if this is presented as a means of controlling the sensationalist press or regulating the journalist profession.
CHRLA believes that the solution to these press violations lies in strengthening the freedom of the press and granting individuals and juridical persons, private and public, the right to issue newspapers, without exception, in addition to granting individuals the right to chose their own reading material, free from the intervention of the authorities. Furthermore, the Journalists’ Syndicate should be given direct responsibility for improving the press and examining breaches of the journalists’ code of ethics which was adopted recently by the Higher Press Council.
Dr Ibrahim Fawzi, President of the General Authority for Investment and Free Zones