CAIRO: In celebration of World Press Day, representatives from local rights group the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) and the Press Syndicate held a conference Thursday on press freedom in Egypt.
The conference stressed enhanced future erosion of freedom of expression in the country after the passing of the new constitutional amendments. “We are here today to commemorate an important day and an important cause. I salute the brave journalists, intellectuals, and activists in this country who face dire consequences such as abuse, torture, and prison sentences in their fight for freedom of expression, Ahmed Abdel Hafiz, board member of EOHR, said.
Gamal Fahmy of the Press Syndicate opened the forum by expressing deep regret over Wednesday’s sentencing of Al-Jazeera journalist Howayda Taha to six months in prison for “defaming the reputation of Egypt in her documentary film.
“Howayda did not hurt Egypt’s reputation. She bravely exposed the truth and the failure of the Egyptian system in her work. Egypt’s decision to send her to prison for her work is what really damages the country, Fahmy argued.
Tuesday’s verdict against Taha sparked strong criticism of the Egyptian authorities from various international rights groups.
“Egypt is marking international press freedom day with a new prison sentence against one of its journalists. The press in Egypt has been facing increased repression by the authorities who, through cases against Howayda Taha and others, seem to be sending a chilling message to journalists, in particular to all those who dare to report on human rights violations in the country in an attempt to silence them, rights group Amnesty International said in a press statement.
Joel Simon, executive director of New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists called the sentence “outrageous and referred to the trial as “a mockery based on ‘patently absurd charges.’
Fahmy further stressed his concern over the recently passed constitutional amendments, emphasizing that press freedom is under increasing threat by the newly implemented laws.
“These amendments do not agree with universal principles of freedom and will have severe consequences not only for press freedom, but for human rights conditions as a whole in Egypt. The Egyptian authorities are engaging in a systematic crackdown on press freedom and freedom of expression, he said.
According to Abdel Hafiz, the new anti-terror legislation allowing national authorities to detain persons, search homes and monitor communications without a judicial warrant, is the biggest threat to freedom of expression and personal rights.
“The new suppressive laws are being used under the pretext of ‘protecting the people’ when all they do is take away the freedom of the people, Abdel Hafiz argued.
“All writing is restricted here these days. Books, publications, and now even online writing by regular citizens fighting for their rights and freedom, Hafiz added, referring to the case of imprisoned Alexandria blogger Kareem Amer.
While no specific action plan for increased press freedom came out of the conference, the speakers urged members of the press to continue their fight and emphasized that the battle for freedom “will continue.