March 25, 1998
The day before yesterday, authorities banned issue no. 28 of the Cairo Times, a biweekly news magazine, published in English, and distributed inside Egypt. The publisher of the Cairo Times, Hisham Kassem, had obtained a license to issue the news magazine from Cyprus, in order to escape the tight restrictions on the freedom to issue newspapers in Egypt, as set down in Law 96/1996 regulating the press. Therefore, the news magazine was subject, like other Egyptian publications with foreign licenses, to the regulations governing foreign publications. These regulations allow the authorities to prevent any foreign publication from entering or being distributed within Egypt, or to prevent its reprinting within Egypt, on the grounds of "maintaining public order" and preventing the "spread of contradictions to religion which could threaten social peace."
The banning of the Cairo Times follows a period of excessive censorship of the news magazine by the relevant authorities—requesting the alteration of some expressions inside the magazine, or their complete cutting. In spite of the fact that the publisher has shown flexibility in response to the demands of the censor in the past, they suddenly asked him to completely cut three whole pages from the issue. One of these pages dealt with the already widely published opinions of the Egyptian press concerning the current situation of the press; while the other two pages consisted of an interview with the Islamic writer, Khalil 'Abd al-Karim, concerning the confiscation of four of his writings by the State Security Public Prosecution last January, based on the recommendation of a group of Islamic researchers affiliated to al-Azhar that the materials be banned. The publisher refused to comply with these demands, so the censor decided that the issue be banned and prevented from distribution. It should also be mentioned that the Cairo Times has already faced a series of restrictions by the censorship authorities on the publishing of certain topics or pictures in previous issues.
This confiscation also comes only a few weeks after the security apparatus picked up the deputy editor of the news magazine, Andrew Hammond, for the purpose of questioning him. The deputy editor was arrested inside the Journalists' Syndicate during a meeting organized by the syndicate for the French writer, Roger Garaudy. Andrew Hammond was kept for six hours, without legal justification, before being released.
The Center for Human Rights Legal Aid (CHRLA) expresses its deep concern to the authorities over the banning of the Cairo Times, considering this a major violation of the right to freedom of expression and to free access to information. We believe that this matter is an additional indicator of the state trend toward limiting the permitted margins of the freedom of the press in Egypt. This has been demonstrated in one month alone, first, with the introduction of additional restrictions on the freedom to publish newspapers via the new law on companies, which stipulates that any company operating in the field of the press must obtain prior approval from the cabinet of ministers. Similarly, the weekly newspaper, al-Dustur, was prevented from publication following a decision to prevent its printing and distribution within Egypt. Finally, three journalists were imprisoned together after a court ruled that they were guilty of 'publication offenses.'
CHRLA reiterates its call on all civil society organizations and active forces , above all the Journalists' Syndicate and human rights organizations, to combine their efforts to address the current pressures on the freedom of the press, and to urge the Egyptian government to reconsider all legal restrictions (occurring in the law regulating the press and the law regulating printed materials) on the freedom to publish newspapers and other publications. We also urge the government to reconsider the wide powers granted to the authorities to ban, confiscate, and prevent the distribution of newspapers, particularly in view of the fact that these practices greatly harm press establishments and the workers within them.
Finally, CHRLA also asks the Egyptian authorities to repeal all penalties which harm publishing freedoms. Monetary fines and disciplinary measures against those violating the journalists' code of ethics, in addition to the monetary compensation which the harmed parties can obtain from the guilty publication, are sufficient penalties for protecting the interests of society.
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