July 9, 2015
His Excellency Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi
Office of the President
Cairo, Arab Republic of Egypt
Via fax: +202 2 391 1441
Via email: [email protected]
Dear President el-Sisi,
The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to express its concern about the deteriorating climate for press freedom in Egypt.
In February, senior government officials from your administration reiterated to a CPJ delegation that the Egyptian press is protected by the constitution. The next month, we followed up with you, urging you to ensure that these constitutional protections are realized in practice. For example, Article 71 states: "No freedom-restricting penalty shall be imposed for publication or publicity crimes." We interpret this article to mean that journalists are protected from imprisonment in connection with their reporting.
Yet the recent passage of restrictive draft laws by your cabinet threatens the freedom of the media in your country, which is holding a record number of journalists behind bars and where press freedom is already on the decline.
A draft anti-terrorism law was announced on Sunday, which includes an article that imposes a minimum sentence of two years in prison on journalists convicted of publishing news about terrorist operations "that contradict official statements." The measure has been finalized by the cabinet and awaits your approval, according to news reports.
Imposing jail on individuals who publish news about issues of public interest defies any standard of freedom of the press and violates Egypt's own constitution, as stated by the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate. Your country is facing real security threats in its cities and in the Sinai, and at such a time, it is of critical importance that journalists are able to report freely without fear of imprisonment. Thus deprived of critical information, the people of Egypt are unable to exercise their fundamental rights.
Your cabinet has also approved the draft cybercrime measure, which is intended to combat terrorism. This will allow law enforcement agencies to pursue harsh prison terms against Internet users for vaguely defined crimes such as "harming social peace" and "threatening national unity." The measure will enter into force once you sign it.
It is unlikely that the draft law will succeed at combating crimes, such as transnational hacking, for which it has allegedly been drafted, say regional experts who focus on information systems and human rights. The law, which could be used arbitrarily against bloggers and journalists reporting on matters of public interest, was created without consultation or discussion with independent organizations in Egypt that specialize in media technology.
We urge you, President el-Sisi, not to sign these measures into law. Both of them serve only to restrict freedom of expression in your country, a basic right that is necessary in any democratic society.
CPJ research shows that your government arbitrarily imprisons journalists using national security and anti-terror laws. In a prison census conducted on June 1, CPJ found that Egypt was holding at least 18 journalists in jail in relation to their work, the highest since CPJ began keeping records. Most of the imprisoned journalists are accused of being affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in Egypt. At least five other journalists have been arrested since then.
In February, you vowed to release from prison detainees who have been wrongly jailed. We urge you to also ensure the release of all journalists who are behind bars in relation to their reporting. Journalists in Egypt should be able to work freely in order to satisfy the public's right to and need for independent reporting.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We look forward to hearing from you.
CPJ Executive Director
Alaa Youssef, Spokesman of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi
Ibrahim Mehlab, Prime Minister
Yasser Safwat, Legal Adviser, Minister of Transitional Justice
Abu Bakr Abdel Karim, Assistant Minister of Interior
Medhat Bassiouni, Assistant Minister of Justice for Human Rights Affairs
Mohamed Tawfik, Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt to Washington
Mohamed Fayeq, President of the National Council for Human Rights
Khaled El-Balshy, Board Member of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate