Mubarak-Era Laws Criminalizing Expression 'Very Disappointing,' says Human Rights Organization
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(New York) -- Amnesty International today called on the Egyptian government to uphold freedom of expression and halt the prosecution of journalist Islam Afifi, charged with publishing "false information" for criticism of Egypt's President and the Muslim Brotherhood. Afifi, editor for the publication al-Dostor, is set to stand trial on Thursday before the Giza Criminal Court in Cairo.
"Both the authorities and the Muslim Brotherhood must accept public criticism of their positions and actions without trying to hide behind Mubarak-era laws," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa. "Egypt must uphold its international obligations to ensure that people are not subject to criminal prosecution for peaceful--even if perceived to be offensive--criticism."
Al-Dostor, a daily newspaper and website, came under investigation by Egypt's Public Prosecution following complaints regarding its criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood. The paper is known for its editorial stand against the movement, including a June article where it claimed the Muslim Brotherhood was preparing a "massacre" if Mohamed Morsi lost the country's presidential election.
President Morsi, who resigned from the Muslim Brotherhood after he won the election, had publicly warned media on August 9 against spreading "rumors" that would destabilize Egypt.
In a June memorandum, Amnesty International called on President Morsi to review and repeal provisions of Egyptian law which, under the rule of Hosni Mubarak and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), were frequently used to suppress criticism of authorities and public figures.
"It is very disappointing that journalists continue to face prosecution in Egypt for their writing, in spite of the 'January 25 Revolution' and its hopes for change," said the human rights organization. "The authorities must not fall into the same pattern of media repression as under Hosni Mubarak."
Under Mubarak and the SCAF, the authorities confiscated newspapers and suspended television channels. Journalists and public figures criticizing the authorities were liable to face criminal defamation charges. Amnesty International documented incidents of army troops and security forces raiding television studios that reported on crackdowns on demonstrations.
In its ruling on an Egyptian blogger in November 2008, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) criticized Egypt's use of criminal defamation charges as a means of repressing freedom of expression. It explained that charges related to defamation, libel and slander should be dealt with by the Egyptian authorities under civil, not criminal, law and that there should not be prison sentences for such charges.
The WGAD also stated: "The fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression, which is the core basis of the human rights system, must prevail when it implies political criticism, even when this criticism is focused in the activities of some concrete persons who have assumed high political responsibilities."
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.