The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Preventive detention threatens journalists again
10 February 1999The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) has followed with deep concern the questioning by the State Security Prosecution of Abbas Al-Tarabily, editor-in-chief of the Al-Wafd newspaper, the mouthpiece of Al-Wafd opposition party, and Mohamed Abdel-Aleem, journalist in the same newspaper. They were summoned in connection with accusations of publishing false information harmful to public peace and interests, inciting public opinion, and inciting public servants to leave work or abstain from performing their duties. These accusations were made in connection with a report by the State Security Investigations (SSI) about a story that appeared on the newspaper's front page last Friday, 5 February, concerning strikes staged by workers of the public works sector and a number of governmental agencies. The two journalists were released on bail of LE 500 each. On 6 February 1999, Al-Wafd newspaper reported to the EOHR that, on the basis of an SSI report, the State Security Prosecution had summoned journalist Mohamed Abdel-Aleem for questioning. At dawn on the same day, an SSI force went to his house and took him to the State Security Prosecution. During the interroations, he denied the charges brought by the prosecution and asserted that the published story was true and well documented by accompanying photographs. In addition, he argued that the story had been published by many other newspapers. However, he was released on a bail of LE 500 pending investigations. Nevertheless, on 8 February Abbas Al-Tarabily, Al-Wafd's editor-in-chief, was summoned for questioning on the same charges brought against Mohamed Abdel-Aleem. During the interrogations, Al-Tarabily asserted the veracity of the story and stressed that none of the concerned bodies had denied what was published by Al-Wafd and the other newspapers. He added that the story was published as a warning for fear that incidents would aggravate. The EOHR believes that the legal provisions upon which the two journalists were interrogated, i.e. articles 124A and 102 bis of the Penal Code, should not, by any means, be applied against journalists. These articles are only applicable in crimes such as distribution of leaflets but not for publication offenses. With respect to journalists, Press Law no. 96 of 1996 is applied as a general rule. Article 41 of this law states that journalists shall not be placed in preventive detention in connection with offences committed by newspapers, except in case of offense against the president of the republic. Hence, the release of the two journalists on bail constitutes an erosion of the legal safeguards afforded to journalists. The EOHR also believes that the procedure and the accompanying charge brought against Al-Wafd's editor-in-chief aim at circumventing a ruling issued by the Supreme Constitutional Court on 5 February 1995. This ruling stated that editors-in-chief shall not be held liable for items they had not written themselves. The EOHR affirms that these procedures constitute gross violations of the freedom of opinion and expression and the right to circulate information. They also contravene Egypt's international commitments as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states in article 19, second paragraph: "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice." The EOHR is deeply concerned about this case and announces its solidarity with the two journalists. In addition, it appeals to the authorities to review all legal provisions that are inconsistent with the Press Law. It also urges all civil society institutions, syndicates, particularly the Press Syndicate, political parties, and intellectuals to intervene to confront such freedom-restricting measures. Finally, it appeals to the Egyptian Government to abide by its international commitments and fulfill its responsibility for protecting all freedoms; and to take prompt measures to stop all practices that curb freedom of opinion and expression and the right to receive and impart information.
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