Freedom of expression project

Saying what we think

CHRLA's report on freedom of opinion and expression in Egypt, 1995.
Published in Cairo by CHRLA, The Center for Human Rights Legal Aid, February 1996

CHRLA would like to thank the following for their hard work: Adrian, Eenas, Hassan, Hisham, and Peter for the translation, and Carol Price for the editing.
Thank you Nicola, and thank you, also, Carol, for the title of the report.


Part 1: International protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Part 2: Constitutional and legislative provisions on the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Section 1: Restrictions on the right to freedom of opinion and expression in the penal code:

1. Definition of liability
2. Offenses involving freedom of opinion and expression in the Penal Code
3. Complementary penalties for offenses involving freedom of opinion and expression

Section 2: Restrictions on the right to freedom of opinion and expression in the Code of Criminal Procedures

Section 3: Other legislative restrictions on the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Section 4: Restrictions on creative and artistic freedom

Section 5: The new hisba law

Part 3: Violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in Egypt during 1995:

Part 4: CHRLA's recommendations for protecting and guaranteeing the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Tables:

List of writers referred to the prosecution and/or court, on the grounds of Law 93/1995; Editors referred to courts on the grounds of Article 195, Penal Code, 'presumed liability'; Journalists brought to trial


Introduction

Since the start of the crisis between the government and journalists, CHRLA has worked to defend freedom of expression, starting with a legal critique of Law no. 93/1995 and continuing with a series of workshops that resulted in the drafting of an alternative press law that was presented to the journalists syndicate, which adopted 90 percent of its recommendations.

CHRLA regrets the fact that the government has not adhered to its promises to freeze the law until the draft committee appointed by the Higher Press Council finishes drafting an alternative law that is accepted by the journalists syndicate. On the contrary, at least forty-three journalists, writers and artists, including twelve editors, have been interrogated and/or referred to trial subject to the provisions of Law no.93/1995, and two sentences of imprisonment have been passed. The first was against Abd al-Aal al-Baqouri, editor-in-chief of Al-Ahali newspaper, and Tharwat Badawi, a reporter for the same newspaper, who were sentenced to two years in prison, and fined LE50,000 each. The second victim of the Law was Magdi Ahmad Hussein, editor-in-chief of Al-Shaab newspaper, who was sentenced to one year imprisonment and fined LE15,000, in a libel case filed by the son of the Minister of the Interior.

The report points out the increasing pressures on freedom of expression during 1995. The number of journalists and writers interrogated by the prosecution office and/or referred to trial during 1995 was 120. For the first time ever, two journalists were tried before a military court. Physical assaults on journalists also increased, in particular during the legislative elections in November 1995. The Islamic newspaper, Al-Nur, was closed, several foreign publications were confiscated, and several articles from the Middle East Times were banned during the latter half of 1995.

The report presents the role of the censor on artistic production as a tool for restricting the freedom of expression. An example of this was the banning of the play Mesa' al-Khayr Ya Masr ('Good Morning Egypt') because actors wore masks representing kings, presidents, and ministers. Also, Dastur Ya Akhwana was banned on the grounds that it included strong criticism of the regime.

The report demonstrates how Islamist groups have used the judiciary to pressurize writers, accusing them of apostasy. The legal tool of hisba has been used as part of their campaigns.

The government, in a bid to stop the danger of hisba cases, has recently issued a new law regulating hisba. However, CHRLA regrets to say that the legislation only regulates the procedures for filing hisba cases, and does not abolish the concept itself. The consequence of this is that the new law recognizes hisba now as part of Egyptian legislation.

Some Islamist lawyers have misused the constitutional right of direct claim and filed cases against writers, intellectuals, and artists, claiming that they had offended Islam. The report recorded fifty-one journalists and writers taken to court using direct claim in fifty-four court cases. The most prominent people tried in this way were the editors of Ruz al-Yusif, the actress Yusra, and the poet Ahmad Abd al-Muati Higazi.

This report states that the solution to this situation requires a comprehensive review of all legislation contradicting the right of freedom of expression--a right guaranteed by Egyptian legislation since Egypt ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

CHRLA requests that all civil society institutions defend freedom of expression, particularly by supporting the repeal of Law no. 93/1995, the amendment of the ambiguous contents of certain articles of the Penal Code which criminalize freedom of expression, and the review of the Law on Publications, on the Authority of the Press, and censorship of artistic production, to end all legislative obstacles to freedom of expression, creativity, and innovation.

CHRLA calls on all those who defend fundamental rights and freedoms to adopt the recommendations stated in this report, the most important of which is supporting the alternative law drafted by the journalists syndicate as a replacement for Law no. 93/1995, and the amendment of the Constitution to allow the publishing of newspapers without restrictions. Furthermore, it is essential that the use of direct claim is regulated by the creation of a judicial committee. This committee should include three Court of Cassation justices who will examine any complaints before a case can go to court. This committee should be appointed by the General Assembly of the Court of Cassation Justices.

Finally, CHRLA reiterates the call for the repeal of all emergency laws, which grant the authorities exceptional powers, as the only true guarantee for freedom of expression and the press.


Introduction | Part 1

Part 2: Section 1: 1 2 3 | Section 2 | Section 3 | Section 4 | Section 5

Part 3 | Part 4

Tables: 1 2 3

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