April 2, 1997
The Center for Human Rights Legal Aid (CHRLA) continues to express its deep concern regarding the Egyptian authorities’ attack on the freedom of the press, resulting recently in the imprisonment of three journalists and the threat of imprisonment of tens of other journalists who have had cases brought against them.
CHRLA issued last week a list of cases against journalists so far known to the center. This list revealed that the penalty of imprisonment threatens no less than 34 journalists whose cases are still awaiting a ruling or are pending at the public prosecution. CHRLA is continuing its efforts to demonstrate the dangerous consequences that such penalties represent to the freedom of opinion for all citizens, and the probability of more journalists being sent to prison. CHRLA has been able to obtain information this week concerning 38 other cases involving 48 journalists charged with publishing offenses, who could be subject to imprisonment (see the attached list of these cases and the names of the journalists).
From what has been discovered so far, CHRLA’s work demonstrates that 72 journalists are threatened with imprisonment. In particular, there is grave concern over the probability that Gamal Fahmi, Mustafa Bakri, Mahmud Bakri, and ‘Amr Nasif will be sent to prison, after court rulings sentencing them to imprisonment from three months to a year. There are also strong fears that certain journalists will probably be sentenced to prison in more than one case, such as Mustafa Bakri (9 cases), Magdi Ahmad Husayn (13 cases), Salah Badiwi (3 cases), and Mahmud al-Tuhami (6 cases).
In issuing a list containing the names of 72 journalists threatened with imprisonment in connection with their work as journalists, CHRLA renews its call to all civil society institutions to address the dangers to freedom of the press and its negative effects on public and peaceful work, by urging the authorities to:
1. Repeal all penalties which negatively affect the freedom to publish and limit penalties to monetary fines and disciplinary measures to be imposed by the Journalists’ Syndicate on those who contravene the professional code of ethics which was recently adopted by the Higher Press Council;
2. Revise all legal restrictions on the freedom of the press and the freedom of opinion and expression;
3. Adopt recommendations proposed by CHRLA during the crisis of Law 93/1995 and endorsed by the Journalists’ Syndicate, the most important of those being:
a) Considering good faith and the belief of the alleged libeler in the legitimacy of his/her work as a sufficient reason for what s/he wrote and transferring the burden of proof from the accused to the public prosecution or to the plaintiff;
b) Carefully defining the difference between an individual’s right to privacy and the right to privacy of a public figure or public servant;
c) Separating the powers of investigation from the powers of prosecution in cases of publishing offenses by creating a body consisting of three Court of Cassation justices selected by the General Assembly of the Court of Cassation who have sole jurisdiction over investigation according to a request by the public prosecution or whoever is authorized to bring charges in press and publishing offenses.