Journalists challenge Egypt’s exceptional laws at seminar

Journalists challenge Egypt’s exceptional laws at seminar

CAIRO: Journalists on Thursday considered the role of the press in challenging exceptional laws during a seminar held at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center.


“Freedom of expression in Egypt is restricted by an arsenal of laws,” Fahmy told the seminar.


“These laws have gradually been added to over the years so that now you have layers and layers of oppressive legislation,” he continued.


The emergency law in force since the declaration of the state of emergency grants the administrative authority powers to search, arrest and detain individuals without the supervision of judicial bodies.


Rights groups state that the uninterrupted application of the emergency law since 1981 has led to the emergence of a parallel legal system unchecked by ordinary judicial bodies.


Fahmy questioned the probity of ordinary, non-exceptional laws.


“What does it mean, to be ‘judged in accordance with the law’? Which law?” he asked.


“Ibrahim Eissa is being judged in accordance with the law — under an article which seeks to justify the unjustifiable,” he continued.


Editor-in-chief of opposition daily Al-Dostour Ibrahim Eissa is currently appealing a six-month prison sentence and LE 20,000 fine he received for “publishing false news” in violation of Article 188 of the Egyptian penal code.


Eissa alleged in a series of articles published in August 2007 that President Hosni Mubarak is in ill-health.


“It’s absurd that someone can decide that ‘false news’ about the president’s health caused him and his children harm, and then bring his children to court to testify. It’s a black comedy,” Fahmy said.


Lawyer Samir El-Sheshtawy brought criminal charges against Eissa alleging that the articles had caused him and his two sons, both aged under 12, emotional harm.


During appeal hearings El-Sheshtawy requested that his two sons be allowed to give evidence to the court.


“Laws such as these are reinforcing the dictatorship, as is demonstrated by the presence of unconstitutional articles in the constitution itself. You only need to consider the amendment made to Article 76 of the constitution to realize this,” Fahmy said.


In 2005 an amendment to the Egyptian constitution allowed for the first time multi-party presidential elections.


Critics allege that criteria stipulated for eligible potential candidates were deliberately designed to exclude opposition party nominees.


“Article 76 was amended in order to allow Gamal Mubarak to take over the presidency — the amended article virtually spells this out,” Fahmy said.


Media advisor to the Muslim Brotherhood Gamal Nassar said that the ruling regime is concerned with silencing opposition voices.


“This regime doesn’t want any one with a different opinion to voice it. This is demonstrated by its history with opposition groups — the military trial of Khayrat El Shater is an example.”


Earlier this year a group of 40 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were tried by a military court on a range of charges in what critics alleged was a politically-motivated trial.


Twenty-five of the group were handed down to prison sentences ranging from three to 10 years.


Nassar also criticized the draft law on audio-visual transmission, a copy of which was leaked by Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm earlier this month.


“The aim of the draft media law is to silence voices,” Nassar said.


The draft law provides for the establishment of an executive-controlled regulation body and lays down prison sentences for anyone who discloses information about it.


“We are confronting a regime which doesn’t want any individual or group with weight to have a voice.


“We’re in an unprecedented, unnatural situation, under the control of a group which has married wealth with power and which doesn’t consider the future, or the welfare of the people,” Nassar explained.


He praised the use of blogs and the internet for political opposition activity.


In April young Egyptian activists called for a nationwide general strike in solidarity with strikers in a spinning factory in the Delta town of Mahalla.


Tens of thousands of people joined the group and one of its administrators, Israa Abdel Fattah, was briefly detained for her involvement in it.


Another administrator, Ahmed Maher, was kidnapped in May by state security investigations officers and allegedly tortured before being released without charge.


“People must act through the Internet, Facebook and so on for the interests of Egypt. Even if the regime doesn’t listen, the people will,” he said.