The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) urged President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi not to sign new anti-terrorism and cyber crime bills, in an official letter on Thursday.
“Both of them serve only to restrict freedom of expression in your country, a basic right that is necessary in any democratic society,” the CPJ said in the letter.
Following the assassination of Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat and attacks in Sinai last week, the cabinet amended the anti-terrorism law, which was initially approved in February. It now includes Article 33, which states: “Anybody who intentionally publishes false news or statements regarding terrorist operations that contradict official state data shall face a minimum prison sentence of two years.”
“Your country is facing real security threats in its cities and in the Sinai, and at such a time, it is of critical importance that journalists are able to report freely without fear of imprisonment. Thus deprived of critical information, the people of Egypt are unable to exercise their fundamental rights,” the CPJ told Al-Sisi in the letter.
Regarding the cyber crime bill, which was also approved by the cabinet last week, it said: “This will allow law enforcement agencies to pursue harsh prison terms against Internet users for vaguely defined crimes such as ‘harming social peace’ and ‘threatening national unity’.”
According to CPJ research, the Egyptian government arbitrarily imprisons journalists using national security and anti-terror laws. In a prison census conducted on 1 June, the CPJ found that Egypt was holding at least 18 journalists in jail in relation to their work, the highest since CPJ began keeping records. At least five other journalists have been arrested since then.
The CPJ also urged Al-Sisi to ensure the release of all journalists behind bars in relation to their reporting. “Journalists in Egypt should be able to work freely in order to satisfy the public’s right to and need for independent reporting,” the letter concluded.
Three of the 12 journalists arrested outside the Zeinhom morgue on Wednesday had their detention renewed Friday for 15 days, a member of the Journalists Against Torture organisation told Daily News Egypt.