Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Editors of 12 Egyptian independent and party newspapers announced Tuesday their intention to suspend publishing their papers next week, if the government does not respond to the Journalists’ Union calls and adopts a law that guarantees freedom of the press.
The Egyptian government is discussing amendments to a contentious law that allows the Egyptian authorities to arrest journalists for publishing reports that include criticism of senior officials and corruption, among other issues.
Egypt’s Journalists Union has criticized the bill, claiming it defends corruption and constitutes a step backwards in freedom of press.
The Union says the changes are merely cosmetic and reverse President Hosni Mubarak’s pledge to abolish the detention of journalists for their publications, a promise made before the presidential elections last year.
The draft bill to be voted by the parliament includes six-month jail terms for journalists convicted of libel. Particularly controversial is article 308 of the draft law, which states that journalists who criticise or discuss the private property of public figures can be jailed.
The editors-in-chief of al Ahrar, al Usbu, al Masri al Youm, al Fajr, al Khamis, al Alam al Youm, Nahda Misr, Sawt al Umma, al Arabi, al Karama and al Mawqif al Arabi and al Ahli indicated that their papers would not appear on newsstands next Sunday, with weekly publications suspended next week. They demanded President Hosni Muabarak intervene to resolve the crisis.
The Egyptian journalists met for an emergency session at the Union’s headquarters. Galal Aref, the Union’s chairman, said the battle ahead was difficult and expressed his surprise at the new law which would punish journalists for publishing reports which include criticism of senior officials and corruption. He rejected the government’s move to punish journalists by handing out six-month jail terms for those convicted of libel.
Nour Frahat, a law professor, told the Union’s general assembly that the draft law, which the government announced, was not the same law that the Union had previously agreed to with the legal committee.
In a related development, the consultative council agreed on Tuesday to include additional amendments to the draft law on punishments for publications and cancel the amendments made to article 308 concerning financial liability.
Mufid Chehab, government minister for legal and parliamentary issues, said the government was proposing to keep article 308 as is and add amendments to article 303, whereby anyone convicted of libel would face a fine between 5000 and 15,000 thousand Egyptian Liras.