July 11, 2006
Egypt’s Press Law Makes Broad Amendments
Human Rights Watch issued a statement today reporting that Egypt’s Press Law, which mandates prison sentences for insulting public officials in the media, still has many restrictions on freedom of the press.
The human rights organization was content with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s removing an amendment that makes the reporting on the financial dealings of public figures punishable by . However, they deplored how provisions criminalizing insults to the president or a foreign head of state remain in the law books.
“Criticizing public officials should not be a criminal offense at all, much less one punishable by prison terms. President Mubarak needs to make good on the promise he made two years ago to come up with a law that protects journalists from prison, even when they criticize public officials,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at HRW.
Egypt’s National Assembly, led by President Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party, approved yesterday the last amendments to articles of the Penal Code governing the press. Al Jazeera also reported that Mubarak left in place amendments that spelled out criminal penalties for criticizing the president or foreign leaders. Mubarak failed to make good on his 2004 pledge that the government would amend the law to ensure that no journalists go to prison for their writings.
HRW stated that these broad provisions in Egypt’s Press Law invite abuse and contravene international standards of freedom of expression. Under international human rights law, political leaders and public figures must tolerate public scrutiny of their conduct and limits on freedom of expression cannot be used to protect officials from public opinion or criticism.
In late June, a local court sentenced a journalist at an opposition paper to one year im jail for insulting the president. Ibrahim Issa, editor of Al-Dustur, had ciriticized Mubarak on wasting foreign aid on economic privatization efforts.