The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Galal Arif, another journalist under the threat of imprisonment
The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) received with deep concern the decision of the Higher State Security Prosecution, on 14 February 1999, referring Galal Arif, journalist at Al-Arabi, the newspaper of the Nasserist opposition party, and former deputy of the Press Syndicate, to the Cairo Criminal Court. Arif is accused of libel and slander against a person with a representative capacity. This decision was taken upon a complaint made by Tharwat Abaza, writer at Al-Ahram semi-official newspaper and deputy of the Shura (Consultative) Council, in which he accused Arif of libeling and slandering him in an article published in Al-Arabi. According to the Penal Code and Press Law 96/1996, Arif may receive up to one year imprisonment sentence and/or a fine. It must be noted that the said article, entitled "Having immunity", was in conformity with the Egyptian Constitution as well as with international human rights instruments ratified by the Egyptian government. In it Arif described Abaza as being "loathsome and abusive", and said that he (Abaza) was making use of his immunity to abuse others. These statements came in response to a campaign launched by Abaza against journalists and which raised the subject of the 'yellow press'. Following Arif's article, Abaza filed a complaint to the High State Security Prosecution, which questioned Gala Arif in the presence of representatives of the Press Syndicate. The EOHR has learnt that the journalist refused to make any statements on the basis that the interrogations were in non-conformity with the Press Syndicate Law, as Abaza should have informed the Syndicate of the legal action he was about to take as stipulated in the said law. The EOHR is seriously concerned about the referral of Galal Arif to the Criminal Court. Out of its concern for the right to freedom of opinion and expression, a right upheld by the Egyptian Constitution and international human rights standards, the EOHR condemns, in principle, the use of any freedom-restricting punishments against journalists for publications offences. At the same time, the EOHR reiterates the importance of amending penal provisions concerning criticism of the behaviour of persons in public positions or with representative capacity. It stresses that it is enough to impose fines and preserve the claimant's right to respond in the same newspaper, and to seek his civil right when necessary. Imprisonment is an oppressive measure that will intimidate journalists and prevent them from performing their work. Therefore, the EOHR appeals to the legislature to amend the legislative framework governing the press profession. This can be realized by revoking all freedom-restricting punishments against journalists. The organization also appeals to all civil society institutions to support journalists threatened by these punishments, which endanger freedom of the press in Egypt.
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