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Egypt: Call for decriminalization of press offence

JOINT ACTION - EGYPT

Participants at IFEX General Meeting call for decriminalization of press offences

SOURCE: Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Cairo; Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo), Cairo

(EOHR/HRinfo/IFEX) - The following letter to the Egyptian authorities was issued at the IFEX General Meeting, in Brussels, Belgium, 19-24 February 2006, and is endorsed by the signatories below:

His Excellency Muhammed Hosni Mubarak
President, Arab Republic of Egypt
Abidin Palace
Cairo
Arab Republic of Egypt

CC. Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, New York
Mr Fethi Surour, Speaker of the People's Assembly, Cairo
Mr. Safwat el-Sherif, President of the Shura' Council, Cairo
Mr. Galal Aref, Secretary General of the Egyptian Press Syndicate, Cairo

Your Excellency:

We, freedom of _expression organizations assembled at the General Meeting of the International Freedom of _Expression Exchange (IFEX) in Brussels, Belgium on 22 February 2006 are writing to express our deep and continuing concern about the failure of the Egyptian state to implement the promise you made two years ago to initiate legislation to decriminalize press offences.

On 23 February 2004, you asked Mr. Galal Aref, secretary-general of the Egyptian Press Syndicate (EPS), to convey to the hundreds of journalist and writer members your commitment to enact legislation to end the imprisonment of journalists for press offences and bring Egypt closer to its obligation to abide by international standards for press freedom.

Two years later, not only does this pledge, which prompted ephemeral hope among Egyptian journalists, remain unfulfilled, but journalists continue to be sentenced to prison, harassed and assaulted with impunity simply for doing their job.

Furthermore, Parliament, which is largely controlled by the National Democratic Party (NDP) which you head, in 2005 promulgated new amendments to the 1956 Law on Political Rights introducing imprisonment and fines for publishing "false information" on elections and on the behavior, or morality of candidates.

These amendments, coupled with various attacks on the press and prison sentences handed down by the courts to reporters over the past two years, amounted to new assaults on the basic right to free _expression.

We urge you to act promptly, to fulfill your commitment to initiate new legislation ending the imprisonment of journalists for practicing their profession and to help Egypt to take significant steps toward compliance with the international standards for free _expression.

We hope that the prompt implementation of new legislation will end the prosecution of journalists for defamation, including Abdel Nasser al-Zuheiry, Alaa al-Ghatrifi, and Youssef al-Oumi of the independent daily "Al Masry El Youm" ("The Egyptian Today"). These journalists were sentenced to one year in prison for allegedly defaming Egypt's former Minister of Housing Mohammed Ibrahim Suleiman in an August 2004 article.

Ironically, the three reporters of "Al Masry El Youm" who were sentenced to one year in prison in April 2005 are awaiting the verdict of a Cairo appeals court due to be handed down on Thursday 23 February, which is also the second anniversary of your promise to decriminalize press offences.

Thank you for your attention to our _expression of serious concern. We look forward to your reply.

Respectfully,

Africa Free Media Foundation, Kenya
Arab Archives Institute (AAI), Jordan
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRInfo), Egypt
Canadian Journalists for Free _Expression (CJFE)
Cartoonists Rights Network, International (CRN)
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR)
Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP)
Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social (CENCOS)
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR)
Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ)
Freedom House
Free Media Movement (FMM)
Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA)
Index on Censorship, UK
IPS Communications Foundation (BIANET), Turkey
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA)
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Namibia
Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Nigeria
Media Watch
National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ)
Observatoire de la Liberté de la Presse, de L'Edition et de la Création (OLPEC), Tunisia
PROBIDAD
Southern Caucasian Freedom of _Expression Network (CASCFEN), Azerbaijan
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)
World Press Freedom Committee

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