CAIRO: The Journalists’ Syndicate, headed by Makram Mohamed Ahmed, was the body that mediated the presidential pardon given to Al-Dostour’s editor Ibrahim Eissa, Ahmed told Daily News Egypt.
Ahmed said that he filed the pardon request to the president a week ago. The Journalists’ Syndicate had also filed a petition to the Higher Council of the Press.
In an official decree, President Hosni Mubarak pardoned Eissa from the two-month jail sentence that Eissa has received for publishing false information about the president’s ill health that the court considered have caused public panic and threatened national security.
“We are thrilled by the president’s decision to pardon Eissa from the jail sentence, Ahmed told Daily News Egypt.
“Based on this pardon, we must build a new type of relationship between the government and the press and between the Journalists’ Syndicate and the Higher Press Council, he said.
“We need to do our best to eliminate jail sentences for publishing offenses in Egypt as they have been eliminated all over the world, Ahmed said.
The second step now, he continued, is to start implementing the journalists’ code of ethics and make the Syndicate more active in investigating press violations, imposing suitable fines and alternative types of punishment.
“We [the Journalists’ Syndicate] are currently investigating 30 press violation cases referred to us by the general attorney, Ahmed addedThe Syndicate is also asking Al-Azhar Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawy, to follow the president’s steps and drop the case he filed against the chief editor of Al-Fajr independent newspaper Adel Hammouda and writer Ahmed Al-Baz.
Tantawy had accused them of defaming him as a religious scholar and intentionally insulting him in an article titled “The Grand Vatican Sheikh, which ran with a doctored image of Tantawy dressed in the robes of the Vatican Pope, with a big cross hanging from his neck.
Ahmed believes that the problems of the publishing offenses can be resolved in four steps: Eliminating jail sentences; implementing the journalists’ code of ethics; introducing a freedom of information act that would make it easier for journalists to reach official information; and empowering the Journalist’s Syndicate in condemning and punishing journalists who violate the code of ethics.
MP Mohamed Khalil Kwaitah, affiliated with the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) one member of which had filed the lawsuit against Eissa, said that this case involved President Mubarak personally and it is his personal choice to give up his right in the case.
“The NDP cannot do anything as the President is the one who has been attacked and he has willingly, happily forgiven [Eissa] and gave up his right in this case, Kwaitah said.
The President, by nature, does not like to be on bad terms or in a personal disagreement with anyone, he added.
Salah Abdel Maqsoud, deputy chair of the Journalists’ Syndicate, said that the pardon indicated that “the president has kept the promise he made in 2004 to eliminate jail terms in publishing offenses.
“This step is a very positive step, Hafez Abou Saeda, director of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), told Daily News Egypt.
According to Abou Saeda, the president’s decision sends a “message to the government and the People’s Assembly (PA) that President Mubarak stresses the importance of freedom of expression and that it comes first and above everything else.
“The decree also makes us question our current criminal law concerning publishing crimes that should be modified to eliminate jail sentences, Abou Saeda said.
Maat Center for Judicial and Constitutional Studies also made a statement about the pardon in which it expressed its satisfaction with the presidential decree.
According to the center, the pardon was issued in reaction to the Egyptian street’s long call for protecting freedom of expression.
“The President’s decision has temporarily stopped the state of anger inside the press and legal communities, said Ayman Akail, president of Maat in a statement.
Akail added that “the government should take advantage of this decree and try to make peace with the press and the public and not wait until another journalist is sent to jail after attending many unfair and sometimes illegal courts hearings.
Eissa himself was unavailable for comment and had not even written his daily editorial in Al-Dostour’s Wednesday issue.
However, the paper published an editorial attributed to “Al-Dostour on the front page in which it stated that “the newspaper welcomes and greets the pardon, yet will continue to fight and stand against corruption of all types and will still continue challenging the current regime.
The presidential pardon “only corrects a wrong decision that should not have been made in the first place, as all of the laws that stand against freedom of the press should be eliminated at the roots, said the editorial.
In August 2007 Al-Dostour published articles suggesting that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak is in ill-health. In March the New Cairo criminal court found in favor of the prosecution’s claim that the articles had a detrimental effect on the national economy.On Sept. 28, the Abbaseyya appeals court sentenced him to two months imprisonment.A day later, Ahmed petitioned Egypt’s Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud to stop the implementation of the prison sentence against Eissa.Eissa’s defense team has also petitioned for this.
Mubarak’s pardon decree was also made in perfect timing as he issued the pardon decree on Oct. 6, the day Egypt celebrates its victory over Israel in the 1973 war.