Press release


March 29, 1998

After the imprisonment of three journalists;
34 others threatened with custodial sentences

At a time when three journalists have been imprisoned in implementation of the sentences issued against them which include a one-year prison term for opposition paper Al-Sha'ab Editor-in-Chief Magdi Ahmad Hassan and Al-Sha'ab journalist Mohammed Helmi Hilal, and a six-month prison sentence for Gamal Fahmi, the opposition Al-Arabi journalist and Editor of the independent Al-Dustur (from which the printing and distribution license was withdrawn at the end of last month), The Center for Human Rights Legal Aid expresses grave concern over the recent tendency to impose stricter penalties in cases related to publishing, in addition to the resort to imprisonment as an alternative to financial penalties.

CHRLA notes with dismay that the insistence on the part of the authorities to resort to custodial sentences in publication cases is taking place at a time when the international trend in legal thought is for the exclusion of such penalties, as they constitute too harsh a punishment for those who violate the ethics of journalism to revenge from the journalists and cause widespread fear among those working in the fields of opinion and journalism.

CHRLA fears that in the light of the current tendency toward harsher punishments in publication cases, that the imprisonment and revenge base will broaden to include hundreds of others whose cases are still being investigated or processed.

CHRLA has begun to prepare a comprehensive list of the journalists and those working in the field of opinion threatened with custodian penalties, whether through cases taken on by CHRLA, other court cases, or those still at the prosecution stage.

This step on the part of CHRLA takes place in the context of its interest in informing public opinion of the dangers and negative impact resulting from custodial sentences, which pose a serious threat to the freedom of the press, the freedom of journalism, and the right to knowledge and the circulation of information.

This statement includes the indicators disclosed by the first list of cases made by CHRLA which includes 48 publication cases, two of which resulted in the imprisonment of three journalists as mentioned above. Court ruled in a third case in favor of a one-year prison sentence, suspended for three years, for Ahmad Fikri (Al-Ahrar opposition newspaper). The list includes seven cases with a ruling of financial penalties against 15 journalists. There were 12 acquittals or withdrawal of cases filed against 21 journalists, writers, editors-in-chief, and chairmen of newspapers. However, real concerns arise over the remaining 22 pending cases either before the courts or at the prosecution stage, which involve 34 journalists.

CHRLA notes that primary rulings of imprisonment periods ranging between 3 months and one year were issued against four of the above-mentioned journalists (Gamal Fahmi, Mustafa Bakri, Mahmud Bakri, and Amr Nasif). In addition, some of these journalists are involved in more than once court case (Mustafa Bakri, Editor-in Chief of the independent Al-Usbu', eight cases; Mahmud Bakri, four cases; Magdi Ahmad Husayn, three cases; Mahmud Al-Tuhami, Editor-in-Chief of Rose al-Youssef, two cases; Galal Duwidar, Editor-in-Chief of Al-Akhbar, two cases.)

CHRLA publishes this initial list of 34 journalists threatened with imprisonment on the basis of loose provisions within the Penal Code which expanded the criminalization of opinion and failed to separate criticism on the one hand, and contempt and humiliation on the other. These provisions do not differentiate between critcizing policies and inciting against the regime. CHRLA renews it call upon the institutions of civil society to stand firmly against the new dangers posed to the freedom of the press. The institutions of civil society are called upon to organize their efforts to:

1. Cancel custodial sentences in publications cases where monetary penalties suffice. These should be imposed by the Journalists' Syndicate on those who violate the profession's code of ethics recently approved by the Supreme Press Council.

2. Reconsider all legal restrictions on the freedom of the press and the freedom of opinion and expression.

3. Adopt the recommendations presented many times by CHRLA within the context of the crisis of Law 93/1995 which were adopted by the Journalists' Syndicate, the most important of which are:

a. Assuming good intentions and the belief on the part of the person committing defamation in the legality of his/her action as sufficient reason, and making the public prosecution or those who claim that the information published is not correct responsible for ascertaining whether or not the challenge is legitimate.

b. Setting accurate limits to distinguish between invading the private lives of citizens on the one hand, and public figures and government employees on the other.

c. The separation of the investigation and the accusation authorities in cases related to publishing through the establishment of an authority of three Court of Cassation counselors, selected by the court's general assembly, to be solely responsible for investigations upon the request of the prosecution or those concerned, in cases relating to press and publication violations.

Initial list of journalists prosecuted

I. Journalists serving final prison sentences:

Magdi Hussayn, Muhammad Hilal (al-Shaab newspaper): Serving a one-year sentence in the case filed by 'Alaa al-Alfi, son of the former minister of the interior, Hassan al-Alfi

Gamal Fahmi (al-Arabi newspaper): Serving a six-month prison sentence in the case filed by Tharwat Abaza, former chairperson of the writers' union

II Journalists with prison sentences under stay-of-execution

Ahmad Fikri (al-Ahrar newspaper): sentenced to one year in prison under stay-of -execution in a case filed by Tala'at al-Sadat, the brother of the late president Sadat.

III. Journalists sentenced to prison terms by first instance courts and awaiting their appeals:

Gamal Fahmi, Ibrahim 'Issa, 'Issam Ismail (al-Dustur): Fahmi was sentenced to 3 months in prison, and 'Issa and Ismail were fined in the case filed by Muhammad Geneidi, a businessman.

Mustafa Bakri, Mahmud Bakri (al-Ahrar): Sentenced to one year in prison in the case filed by the former minister of Awqaf Muhammad 'Ali Mahgub.

Amr Nasif (al-Ahrar): Sentenced to a one-year prison term in the case filed by Tharwat Abaza, former chairperson of the writers' union

IV. Journalists awaiting rulings:

Hanan Kamal: Awaiting a ruling on 16 May

Salah Qabadayia, Hisham Tantawi, Nabil Sadiq, Hussam Suliman, Abd al-Nasir Muhammad, Muhammad Abu al-Nur (al-Ahrar): Awaiting a ruling on 19 April

Mahmud Bakri, 'Issam Sultan (Sut Helwan): Awaiting a ruling on 30 March

Magdi Hussayn, Adel Hussayn, Salah Badawi, Hamdi al-Shami (al-Shaab): awaiting a ruling on 3 July

Magdi Husayn, Dawud Hassan, Ibrahim Shukri (al-Shaab): Awaiting a ruling on 2 May

Hamdi Hamada, Mustafa Bakri, Mahmud Bakri, 'Usama al-Karam, Mamduh Mahran al-Banna (al-Wafd, al-Ahrar): No date has been decided upon yet

Mustafa Bakri, Mahmud Bakri (al-Ahrar): Postponed until April

Safaa 'Abd al-Fatah, Ibrahim 'Issa: Postponed to 29 March

'Issam Zakariya, Mahmud al-Tohami (Rose al-Youssef): No date decided upon yet

Mustafa Bakri, Ahmad 'Abd al-Hadi (al-Ahrar): no date decided upon yet

Mu'min Ahmad, Mustafa Bakri (al-Usbu'): Postponed to 5 May

V. Cases pending before the prosecution office

Magdi Ahmad Hussayn (al-Sha'ab): Interrogated on 11 October 1997, no action taken by the prosecution office so far.

Mustafa Bakri, Abdullah-al-Kilani (al-Ahrar): Sent back to the prosecution office by the court on 17 November 1997; no action taken by the prosecution office

Galal Duwidar, Galal al-Sayyid (al-Akhbar): Sent back to the prosecution office by the court on 4 August 1997; no action taken by the prosecution office

Adel Hamuda, Mahmud al-Tuhami (Rose al-Youssef): Interrogated on 22 January 1997, no action taken by the prosecution office

Mustafa Bakri (al-Ahrar): Sent back to the prosecution office by court on 7 November 1997; no action taken by the prosecution office

Galal Duwidar, 'Amr al-Khayat (al-Akhbar): Sent back to the prosecution office by court on 5 August 1997; no action taken by the prosecution office

Mustafa Bakri (al-Usbu'): Interrogated on 13 May 1997; no action taken by the prosecution office

VI. Journalists fined for publication offenses:

'Abd al-Rahman Ismail, Muhammad al-Qudusi (al-Shaab): LE 500 fine on 2 August 1997

John Munro, Ben Faulks (Middle East Times): LE 10,000 fine each on 31 January 1997

Mahmud al-Maraghi, Hamid Mahmud, Diaa' al-Din Dawud (al-Arabi): LE 5,000 fine on 21 April 1997

Ibrahim 'Issa, Ikram Sha'aban, 'Issam Fahmi (al-Dustur): LE 100 fine each

Suliman Fayad, Ibrahim 'Issa (al-Dustur): Fayad was fined LE 5,000, and appealed; the appeal is scheduled for 22 April

VII. Cases ending with the withdrawal of the plaintiff or the acquittal of journalists:

Ahmad Fu'ad Nigm, Ibrahim 'Issa, 'Issam Fahmi (al-Dustur): Acquitted in the case filed by playwright 'Ali Salim on 30 January 1997

'Issam Fahmi, Ibrahim 'Issa, Ibrahim 'Abd al-Sami (al-Dustur): Acquitted on 27 March 1997 in the case filed by Shaykh Hassan Salama

'Issam Zakariya, Mahmud al-Tohami (Rose al-Youssef): acquitted on 25 January 1998, in the case filed by al-Sayyid 'Abd al-Rahman

'Abd al-Muna'im Ramadan, Ahmad 'Abd al-Mu'ti Higazi (Ibdaa' Magazine): Case rejected in court on 25 January 1998

'Abd al-'Aal al-Baquri (al-Ahali): Case rejected in court on 25 January 1998

'Abd al-'Aal al-Baquri, 'Ali Badawi (al-Ahali): Case rejected in court on 25 January 1998

Ibrahim 'Issa, Mahmud al-Tohami (Rose al-Youssef): acquitted on 25 January 1998, in the case filed by al-Sayyid 'Abd al-Rahman

Justice Muhammad Sa'id al-Ashmawy (for an a series of articles published in Rose al-Yousif): Case rejected in court on 25 January 1998


Egyptian Press under Attack

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