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Egypt new anti-terror law ‘silences’ opposition media

Funeral of a soldier killed in the recent Sinai attack [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 July, 2015

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Egyptian authorities are meeting to discuss a new anti-terrorism bill and possibly amend a controversial article that would effectively gag the local press.
Egypt's government will meet on Wednesday to discuss a controversial draft anti-terrorism law under which reporters could be jailed for contradicting official statements, cabinet officials said.

The government last week approved the law, which President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi must ratify, but a senior judiciary council asked for changes to a provision that would set up anti-terrorism courts.

The draft law has come under attack from the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate, political parties and prominent figures over article 33, which further limits already restricted press freedoms.

The article stipulates a minimum two-year prison sentence for anyone who reports details of militant attacks that contradict official statements, such as the military.

Head of Egypt’s Journalists Syndicate, Yehia Qalash, phoned into a late-night talk show, on Tuesday, to express his anger at the bill and the controversial article.

“This bill will eliminate all forms of opposition media and effectively bring an end to freedom of the press, which is a basic right of the constitution,” Qalash said.  

According to Egyptian officials the measure is in response to coverage of the recent militant attack on soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula.

    

"This bill will eliminate all forms of opposition media and effectively bring an end to freedom of the press, which is a basic right of the constitution"

Yehia Qalash

The military said 21 soldiers were killed in the attack, after foreign and local media reported much higher figures given by security sources.

The attacks came two days after state prosecutor Hisham Barakat was assassinated in a car bombing in Cairo, prompting Sisi to demand tougher laws and faster trials and sentencing for alleged militants and imprisoned members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Talk show host Amr Adeeb said, on Tuesday, the government will likley amend article of the proposed bill and the two-sentence will be replaced by fine. Mass circulation private daily al-Masry al-Youm repeated the same claims.

Egypt is currently holding the highest number of journalists behind bars since record keeping began, last week Egyptian authorities arrested four local journalists around the two-year anniversary of the ousting of former Islamic president Mohammad Morsi.

Last week, a reporter for leading Spanish newspaper was forced to leave Egypt suddenly, following urgent advice from Madrid that local authorities were preparing to arrest him.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently issued a “style guide” for the foreign press on how to describe terrorism with a list of words such as Islamist and jihadists that should be replaced with “destroyers and eradicators”.

The country has been fighting an insurgency in Sinai for years, attacks have increased since the 2013 military coup, killing hundreds of policemen and soldiers, while more than 1,400 people, mostly Morsi supporters, have been killed in a crackdown on protests.

Five civilians were killed when a mortar round hit a house in a North Sinai village on Wednesday, according to security officials.


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