In Egypt, Morsi bans pre-trial detention of journalists

New York, August 23, 2012–Egyptian leader Mohamed Morsi banned pre-trial detention of journalists charged with press-related offenses today in a decree issued just hours after a Cairo criminal court jailed an editor pending trial on charges of insulting the president, according to news reports. 

“We welcome President Morsi’s decision to ban pre-trial detention but urge thorough reform that repeals the archaic laws criminalizing the reporting of news and the expression of opinion,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Authorities must also halt an alarming rise in repression that has included newspaper confiscations, criminal prosecutions, and assaults against journalists.”

A Giza criminal court had ordered the pre-trial detention of Islam Afifi, editor-in-chief of the private daily Al-Dustour, who is charged with “insulting the president” and “spreading rumors that could disturb public safety and harm public interest,” according to news reports. Afifi’s trial, originally scheduled to begin today, was postponed to September 16 and the presiding judge ordered him jailed in Cairo’s Tora Prison, news reports said.

Afifi was freed shortly after Morsi issued the decree, according to news reports. Cairo’s general prosecutor also lifted an August 12 order that barred Afifi from traveling, according to news reports. The travel ban was issued a day after a Cairo court ordered the confiscation of several editions of Al-Dustour, CPJ research shows.

Al-Dustour is well-known for its criticism of the government’s majority Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, news reports said. The daily has run several articles alleging the Muslim Brotherhood would turn Egypt into an Islamic state, the reports said.

Abdel-Halim Qandil editor-in-chief of the private weekly Sawt al-Umma, and Adel Hammoda, editor-in-chief of the private weekly El-Fagr are facing trial on similar charges of insulting the president, according to news reports. Qandil’s charge stems from an August 13 article that questioned the president’s intelligence, news reports said. Hammoda’s charges stem from articles on June 28 and August 9 calling the president a “fascist,” and “protector of terrorists,” according to news reports.

Today’s developments came against a backdrop of rising repression in Egypt. On Wednesday, authorities confiscated several editions of the weekly Al-Shaab, which is affiliated with Egypt’s Labor Party, in connection with an article criticizing the head of Egypt’s intelligence apparatus, according to news reports.

Earlier this month, Egypt’s upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, appointed new editors-in-chief of the country’s state-run newspapers. The move was seen as placing people sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood in charge of state news coverage. Over the past month, CPJ documented a stream of attacks against journalists including the confiscation a newspaper, the physical assault of three journalists on the street, and the censorship of several newspapers. 

·         For more data and analysis on Egypt, visit CPJ’s Egypt page here.