IFJ slams Egypt over crippling fine for reporting ‘false information that contradicts official statements’ in new anti-terrorism bill

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has welcomed the amendment of the new Egyptian anti-terrorism draft which removed yesterday the custodial sentence of up two years for publishing “false information on terrorist attacks that contradict official statements” but condemned the decision to replace it with a fine of between 23.000 – 58.000 € for the same offence, under Art 33 of the draft law. The controversial clause was denounced by journalists in Egypt who considered it to be an attack on their independence. The IFJ has today backed the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate (EJS) which called for the repeal of the entire article, saying that the fine is “another type of imprisonment” as it would be far beyond the means of most journalists. The amendment approved yesterday follows the submission the EJS to the government, arguing that the clause constitutes a violation of press freedom and was in breach of the country’s constitution adopted in 2014. “The revision just creates another type of imprisonment,” said the EJS, denouncing the “totalitarian logic of the law, which aims to silence all opposition voices within the country. The article 33 of the draft law contradicts the article 71 of the Constitution, which states that ‘it is prohibited to censor, confiscate, suspend or shut down Egyptian newspapers and media outlets in any way,” except in times of war or general mobilization. In addition, “there are no alternative provisions to this article addressing the dissemination of false news on purpose.” The EJS is leading the fight to protect press freedom and independent journalism in Egypt in the face of mounting pressure on civil liberties in the country. Last week, 17 political parties gathered in a meeting in Cairo under the banner 'Egypt Fighting Terrorism.' During the meeting, they agreed in their statement that the draft law is in conformity with Egyptian constitution and called on the EJS to drop its opposition to the draft law and “take into consideration the crucial circumstances facing the homeland.” The IFJ supports the EJS’ campaign to have the controversial article dropped entirely. “The government is attempting to intimidate the media into toeing the official line through a crippling fine, which is totally unacceptable," said IFJ President Jim Boumelha. “We stand by our colleagues in the EJS in their opposition to the new provision as they resist using official statements as the only source of truth, thus becoming mouthpiece of their authorities. Journalism has always been about checking and re-checking all sources in order to reveal the whole truth to the public. Egyptian journalists play a crucial role in speaking truth to power as champions of the public interest, no matter who is currently in power. Replacing the imprisonment by a fine doesn’t change the fact that the law continues to aim at muzzling press freedom.” According to reports, the draft law came partly in response to coverage of militant assaults on soldiers in the Sinai last July 1 after several media outlets reported higher tolls than security officials’. The bill still requires the approval of the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi who has to sign it into law.

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