The 50-member Constituent Assembly tasked with amending the suspended 2012 constitution preliminarily passed articles on freedom of the press and publishing during a closed session on Thursday.
The assembly began voting on drafted articles this week while simultaneously working on finalising undrafted articles.
Constituent Assembly spokesman Mohamed Salmawy said in a press conference held on Thursday that the assembly passed a new article which bans the stoppage of any means of communication, reported state-run Al-Ahram. A clause was added to Article 50 of the 2012 constitution which holds the state responsible for protecting citizens’ right to use all forms of communication, while banning their amendment, intentional interruption or arbitrary blockage from use, according to the law.
Article 51 guarantees the freedom of the press as well as the broadcast and electronic media. It gives all Egyptians the right to own and issue media outlets through notification and according to the law.
Mohamed Zare’, lawyer and director of the Arab Penal Reform Organisation, earlier criticised leaving the implementation of constitutional articles up to the law. He pointed out that such practice leaves room for issued laws to limit the basic freedoms that the constitution stipulates.
The assembly also reportedly passed an article which bans the confiscation, closure, or censorship of media outlets. Article 52 leaves room for imposing censorship in times of war or in times of preparation for war.
Salmawy said that different “considerations” would be adopted in confiscating, closing down, or imposing censorship on foreign media outlets, reported Al-Ahram.
Article 52 also bans detention in crimes which relate to publishing information unless they concern “inciting violence, discrimination or libel.”
The assembly added a clause obliging the state to guarantee the independence of state-owned media outlets to ensure they remain unbiased and representative of all ideological, political, and social viewpoints.
The Constituent Assembly had preliminarily passed over ten more articles in the rights and freedoms section on Sunday and Monday.
The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) welcomed the amended articles addressing torture, equality and personal freedom. In a statement released on Wednesday, the EOHR described the amendments as a “step towards achieving …democracy”.
Hafez Abu Seada, EOHR director and National Council for Human Rights member, stressed the importance of following those amendments with an amendment to the legislative structure in order to ensure that those articles are implemented.
Emad Mubarak, director of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, earlier criticised the passed article on equality for criminalising the incitement of hate, describing the text as “disastrous”.
The article in question states that all citizens are equal in rights and duties before the law, banning discrimination based on religion, belief, sex, race, ethnicity, colour, language or disability, geographical position, social status, political affiliation or any other reason. The article also states that discrimination or inciting hate are crimes punishable by law and mandated the state to take all measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination.
“Since the article lacks a clear definition of hate, I expect this article to be used in restricting freedom of expression,” Mubarak had said. “It will mainly be used against religious minorities who could be accused of attacking Islam.”
Articles are passed by the assembly in closed sessions where media coverage is not allowed. They are then referred to the 10-member legal experts’ committee to refine their draft, which refers them back to the 50-member assembly to vote on them one final time. Should they pass, such articles make up the constitution, which will be put to a referendum.
The Constituent Assembly is expected to be done with the constitution in December.