Egypt’s new anti-terrorism law deepens crackdown on the press

New York, August 17, 2015–An anti-terrorism law approved by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi criminalizes basic reporting and gives a broad definition of terrorist crimes that can be used to threaten and imprison journalists. El-Sisi signed the measure into law on Sunday night, according to news reports.

“As of today, journalists are legally prohibited from investigating, verifying, and reporting on one of the most important matters of public interest,” CPJ Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said. “The state has effectively made itself the only permissible source of news on these stories.”

The new law imposes fines ranging from 200,000 to 500,000 Egyptian pounds (about US$25,500 to US$64,000) for publishing “false news or statements” about terrorist acts, or issuing reports that contradict accounts by the Egyptian Ministry of Defense, according to news reports. The law also imposes a minimum of five years in prison for the “promotion, directly or indirectly, of any perpetration of terrorist crimes, verbally or in writing or by any other means.”

The law defines “terrorist crimes” as any act aiming to harm public order, social peace, or national unity. Authorities say the measures will halt attacks by Islamist militants. Following the assassination by a car bomb of Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat, President el-Sisi pledged to implement stronger anti-terrorism legislation, according to news reports.

Regional and international rights groups have condemned the anti-terrorism law as too broad and excessively restrictive. In a letter on July 9, CPJ urged President el-Sisi not to sign the measure into law, saying the legislation serves “only to restrict freedom of expression … a basic right that is necessary in any democratic society.”

Critical reporting in Egypt is already under threat as journalists face intense pressure to align their reporting with the government or face indiscriminate accusations of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been declared a terrorist group. On Sunday, Ahmed Ramadan, a photojournalist for the independent newspaper Tahrir, was arrested in a Cairo criminal court where he was covering the trial of former Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi, according to news reports.

Ramadan was arrested after another journalist for the government-aligned news website Youm 7 told police officers in the courtroom that Ramadan belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood, according to news reports and the Egyptian Journalist’s Syndicate.

Ramadan was released on Monday on bail of 5,000 Egyptian pounds after he was interrogated, according to news reports.

“The arbitrary arrest of a journalist while covering a public court proceeding is deeply unsettling and is indicative about the hostile media environment and the uncertainty with which all journalists work in Egypt,” CPJ’s Mansour said.

According to CPJ research, at least 22 journalists were behind bars for their reporting in Egypt on August 12, 2015.

  • For data and analysis on Egypt, visit CPJ’s Egypt page.