New Setback for Freedom of Opinion and Expression

New Setback for Freedom of Opinion and Expression

Hadayek Al-Qobba Misdemeanor Court on 28 / 2 / 2009 (the misdemeanor of giving a false account) issued a verdict in case No. 27375 of 2008 brought  by the Health Insurance General Organization   against Salah Qabdaya, chairman of board of Al-Ahram newspaper, and Essam Kamil, managing editor, and Ala’ Shabal, a journalist at the newspaper, in absentia. They were sentenced to imprisonment for one month and a bail of 100 L.E. for each of them with a payment of 501 L.E. as temporary reparation.

The events of the case go back to 20th November 2008 whereby the newspaper published, in issue number 6171 of 20 /  11 / 2008, the news article with the headline ‘Report to the Attorney General against the Minister of Health and the Manager of Health Insurance in Al-Gharbiya’. The father of the four-year-old child Mahmud Hamada accused those responsible for health insurance in Al-Gharbiya of medical negligence and causing the mental handicapping and loss of senses of his only child. This is what caused the organization to submit an immediate misdemeanor case against those mentioned, accusing them of giving a false account. However, none of those mentioned attended the sessions.

In addition to this, the organization  presented a complaint to the chairman of the Press High Council about what was published in the newspaper to take steps towards falsifying the news issued in the newspaper and to question  newspaper in accordance with law 96 of 1996 in the matter of press management.

In this regard, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights expresses its deep concern about the continuing application of the imprisonment policy for journalists as it contradicts the Egyptian constitution as well as international covenants  and agreements that confirm the principles of freedom of opinion and  expression and holding of ideas , in addition to the freedom to circulate information and the right to know and obtain information without impediments. At the head of these international agreements is Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that confirms the “freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” The Egyptian government ratified these treaties and therefore they became an essential part of domestic law according to article 151 of the Constitution.

Paragraph 2 of article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights requires the protection of the right to freedom of expression, and it not only contains the freedom to “impart information and ideas” but also the freedom to “seek” and “receive” them “regardless of frontiers” and “through any media” whether that be through writing, printing, art or any other media that is chosen. Given the development of modern mass media, active measures must be taken to prevent this censorship of the media, which contradicts the right of every individual to freedom of expression in a way that is not provided in paragraph 3 of article 19.   

Paragraph 3 freely confirms that practicing the right to freedom of expression entails special duties and responsibilities. In this way, this right may be subjected to certain restrictions to safeguard the interests of other people or the interests of society as a whole.  However, when a state imposes restrictions on practicing the freedom of expression, these restrictions may not endanger the right itself. They may not be imposed but for one goal shown in paragraphs A and B in paragraph 3. They must be justified by being necessary for the state to ensure on of these goals. 

EOHR sees this sentence of imprisonment as confirmation of the state’s violation of the principle of freedom of opinion and expression, to circulate information and right to knowledge. EOHR also requests an end to these type of sentences that President Mubarak promised to put a stop to in February 2004 protecting freedom of the press and journalists and putting into practice the constitution and international pacts that ensure the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Fines should be sufficient, with the placement of a maximum limit, and the person affected by the publication should have the right to reply in the same newspaper and to have the civil claim to request appropriate compensation in front of a civil court if the journalist broke the law.