Thursday 21 September 2017

Anti-terror law clamps down on Egyptian journalists

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

Brian Rohan in Cairo

The Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has approved a tough anti-terror law which could issue journalists with exorbitant fines and suspend them from work if they produce "false" reporting on militant attacks.

The government had sped up the passage of the law after the state prosecutor was assassinated in a car bombing in late June, followed by a large-scale extremist attack in the Sinai Peninsula days later.

The military was infuriated after media, quoting security officials, reported that dozens of troops had been killed in the Sinai attack. The military's official death toll was 21 soldiers and scores of jihadists.

The controversial law, published in the government's official gazette, sets a minimum fine of 200,000 Egyptian pounds (about €22,000) and a maximum of 500,000 pounds for anyone who strays from government statements in publishing or spreading "false" reports on attacks or security operations against militants.

Critics said the steep fines may shut down smaller newspapers, and deter larger ones from independently reporting on attacks and operations against militants. The government had initially proposed a jail sentence for offenders, but backed down after a backlash from media.

The ratified law, however, added another clause allowing courts to "prevent the convicted from practising the profession for a period of no more than one year, if the crime violates the principles of the profession".

It did not specifically mention journalism, but the law has raised fears that journalists could be put on trial for their reporting. Three journalists, including former BBC reporter Peter Greste, had already been sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for "defaming" the country and supporting the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood movement. The reporters with the al-Jazeera English channel won a retrial that will conclude at the end of the month.

Government officials said the law requires proof of intent to publish false reports to secure a conviction. It also lays out the death penalty for those convicted of leading "terrorist groups" or financing attacks.

Hundreds of Islamists have been sentenced to death in mass trials since Mr Sisi overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

Irish Independent

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