The Press Syndicate is yet to receive a response from the government regarding its submitted proposal Monday that included amendments to the controversial anti-terrorism law, which mainly demanded that Article 33 be completely removed from the new law.
Article 33 of the anti-terrorism law, which has yet to be passed, states that “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”.
“That article plays the role of a dogwatch on the press as it turns newspapers into state pamphlets, at the same time releasing the hands of ‘takfiri’ media,” the syndicate stated, adding that an official statement is just a part – and not the only – of information collection process to uncover the truth.
According to the syndicate’s suggestions, the law must be declared “for a defined temporary period”. Journalists had also stated objections to four other articles.
Article 26 bans incitement to violence through any means of communication, including writing. However, the initial term used in the draft law was “promotion”, which the syndicate chose to replace with “incitement”, which was deemed a less ambiguous term.
In Article 27, the law focused on websites used for that purpose, forbidding “the establishment of websites in order to promote ideas and beliefs that call for committing terrorist acts, or publish content aiming at distracting security authorities, or influence the process of justice regarding a terrorist crime, or exchange messages and give orders to and from terrorist groups, or information regarding their work and movements inside and outside”.
The syndicate suggestions reduced the law to be more specific and straightforward, as follows: It is punishable by five years in prison to establish a website aimed at inciting or favouring calls to violence or committing terrorist crimes, or exchange messages or orders with those groups.
The penalty in both articles includes a minimum sentence of five years in prison, up to seven years and 10 years, respectively.
Article 29 sets a sentence of between one to five years for “anybody who collects information on official authorities executing the current law without prerequisites, for the purpose of using it in threatening or plotting to harm them or their interest”.
The syndicate stated that the article is vague as it is as part of the journalists’ job to “collect information”. Instead, the syndicate added “professional or research prerequisites”.
Moreover, the Press Syndicate also rejected Article 37, which forbids recording or taking pictures of a trial session in a terrorist case, or publishing it in the media. While the constitution requires trials to be public unless the judge exceptionally decides otherwise, it does not define the media’s rights to access.
The syndicate has not suggested amendments to the article, but added that “media gags on trial cases” are automatically lifted when a verdict is issued in the case.
Over the past three years, marked by numerous trials, especially political ones, reporters and photojournalists have faced harassment and prevention of entry during their coverage, mainly by security forces.
Additionally, several media gags were imposed on trial cases of public interest, such as the case of Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh, the Air Defence Stadium incidents, the killing of lawyer Karim Hamdy and Morsi’s espionage trial case.
The Press Syndicate’s observations come as the government had said that it was seeking different options, including the amendment of the article to replace the prison term with a fine. Media reports suggested that the fine could reach up to EGP 150,000, which is still not affordable by most journalists.