In a letter to head of the 50 member Constituent Assembly, Amr Moussa, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called for adopting “comprehensive reforms” that guarantee freedom of speech and the right to information to everyone.
CPJ published the letter, which was signed by its Executive Director Joel Simon, a copy of which was sent to Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi and Diaa Rashwan, Head of the Press Syndicate and its representative in the assembly, on Monday. It included a set of recommendations that will ensure that the final draft of the constitution deems current threats to press freedom unconstitutional.
These recommendations come at a time when many concerns on the security of journalists in Egypt are being raised. The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) condemned on Monday the continued targeting of journalists and media practitioners by security forces for their opinions. ANHRI reported the detention of two journalists for Al-Shorouk newspaper in North Sinai on Monday, adding that they were forcefully taken to the North Sinai Directorate of Security before being released “after confirming that they do not work for pro-Muslim Brotherhood media services.”
CPJ, which is a non-profit organization that promotes press freedom, has recorded the deaths of nine journalists since 2011, five of whom died after the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July. “At least 10 media outlets have been raided by security forces. At least five of them remain closed,” it stated.
The committee’s recommendations include embracing an explicit, expansive guarantee of freedom of speech that includes all media, guarantees all citizens the right to information, ensures that censorship is brought to an end, as is the shutting down of newspapers through court orders. “Allowing executive bodies to request the confiscation of newspapers through expedited court action opens doors for abuse,” the letter read.
It also recommended that the government does not get involved in “any journalistic code of ethics,” adding that decisions on developing a code of ethics for journalists should come independently from them.
CPJ also recommended ensuring that statutes regarding incitement of violence “adhere to international standards of free speech” and that military trials for all citizens, including journalists, are prohibited.
“The courts alone should be empowered to conduct independent and impartial reviews of all cases involving press freedom,” the letter read.
CPJ stated that it would welcome a meeting with Moussa, or any assembly member, to further discuss these recommendations.
Egypt’s 2012 constitution is currently being amended, and once submitted, the final draft of the amended constitution will be put to a referendum.
In a statement earlier this week, the Press Syndicate’s council said it welcomed “positive trends” in the Constituent Assembly’s discussions. It also advocated the unacceptability of censoring newspapers and the media, or suspending or closing media outlets, and confirmed the importance of “ensuring that journalists and media professionals work in freedom and safety and the right to obtain information from original sources.”
Mahmoud Abdel-Shakour, a correspondent for Corbis, an American visual media provider, has been detained in Abu Za’bal prison for 15 days consecutively several times. ANHRI lawyer Karim Abdel-Rady said the renewal of his detention was being considered by a judge on Tuesday, but the judge decided to postpone the decision to Wednesday.
ANHRI said on Monday that charges against him include attacking public service employees and joining a banned terrorist organization. “But these accusations are baseless,” ANHRI said, adding that Abdel-Shakour is not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Aside from Abdel-Shakour, at least seven other journalists are detained in Tora and Abu Za’bal prisons for investigations for the same set of charges of using weapons, inciting violence, and joining a banned terrorist group,” ANHRI said.
Detained journalists include two Al-Jazeera journalists. One of them is cameraman Mohamed Badr, who was arrested on 15 July while covering clashes in Ramsis and correspondent Abdullah Al-Shami, who was arrested on 14 August for alleged weapon possession while covering the dispersal of the Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in.
Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr’s office was raided last month by security forces, a move that was heavily criticized by freedom of expression advocates.
Among the journalists is also Sinai-based, award winning journalist Ahmed Abou Deraa, who is still in detention after his 4 September arrest and faces military trial. He was charged with “intentionally spreading false information on the military.” During the course of his arrest, ANHRI demanded that his extrajudicial trial be stopped, the Press Syndicate announced concern for his arrest and the National Council for Human Rights condemned it. Several international groups that advocate for press freedom also announced their concerns for Abou Deraa, including CPJ and Reporters Without Borders.
Mohamed Sabry is another Sinai-based journalist who stands military trial for “entering a prohibited military zone and filming a military facility.” Sabry was eventually released from detention but his trial has continued to be postponed for months.
ANHRI said detained journalists include Brotherhood TV channel’s Misr 25 presenter Sherif Mansour, TV presenter in Amgad channel Mohamed Adly, Rasd online news portal’s executive director Samehy Mostafa and co-founder Abdallah Al-Fakharany, Beni Suef based correspondent Emad Abu Zeid and Ibrahim El-Darawi, a magazine editor. Charges against them include spying, inciting violence, planning to spread chaos and violence, and disturbing public order by publishing false news.
CPJ said public discourse can be limited by legal prohibitions like “blasphemy, anti-state propaganda, insults to public officials and states, incitement to disobedience in the army, disruption of national peace, and publication of material inimical to public taste,” among others.
ANHRI ended its statement with: “The respect of freedom of opinion and expression is measured by the state’s ability to respect opposing opinions, no matter what they are,” adding that the state’s pursuit of journalists shows the lack of political will to liberate media work.