- Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has pledged to reform the country's harsh media laws. He indicated that reforms would include eliminating prison sentences for journalists publishing questionable or anti-government material.
Galal Aref, head of the Egyptian Journalists' Syndicate, told the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) yesterday that the Egyptian President had called him and told him that journalists would no longer face the possibility of imprisonment for what they publish.
Mr Aref announced the news yesterday at the opening of the syndicate's annual conference in Egypt's capital, Cairo. Other news organisations also reported President Mubarak's pledge.
The Egyptian media activist told CPJ that this government promise would involve reforming Egypt's press law and other laws that have been used to prosecute and imprison journalists. The syndicate's spokesman, Yehia Qallash, said that the Cairo Parliament is expected to approve the necessary proposals to reform the existing laws.
Current laws, such as the 1996 press law, prescribe prison sentences of up to two years for defamation. It also allows prison sentences for libel, "insults" and "putting out false news."
Journalists in Egypt further have faced imprisonment under other Penal Code provisions for, among other things, "violating public morality" and "damaging national interest."
While, according to CPJ research, there are currently no journalists imprisoned in Egypt, several have been jailed for libel and others have faced prosecution. Five journalists and a cyber-dissident were given jail terms in 2002, according to the Paris-based group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF). Two journalists were imprisoned for libel in June last year.
President Mubarak's decision to soften the media legislation is also in terms with international law and human rights. The UN special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Abid Hussain, called on all governments on 18 January 2000 "to ensure that press crimes are no longer subject to prison sentences except for crimes such as racist or discriminatory comments or appeals for violence."
Mr Hussain said the imposition of a prison sentence for the peaceful expression of opinion "constitutes a serious violation of human rights."
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