CAIRO: The Journalists’ Syndicate’s freedoms committee condemned the Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud’s initial decision to impose a publishing ban on the Suzanne Tamim murder case, highlighting the importance of making such court sessions public.
“For a court to be fair and objective it has to be open to the public, Essam El-Sonbaty, lawyer and member of the freedoms committee said in a press conference Wednesday organized by the committee, Al-Badil newspaper and the Hisham Mubarak Law Center.
Mahmoud had imposed a publishing ban on Tamim’s murder case as rumors started circulating about business mogul Hisham Talaat Moustafa’s involvement in the case.
The trial begins on Saturday, but it is yet to be decided whether journalists will be allowed to attend.
Mohamed Sayed Said, founder of Al-Badil, explained that preventing the press from publishing certain news is a phenomenon initiated by the political system.
According to Said, this publishing ban gave the Prosecutor General – who is part of the executive authority – supremacy over the judicial authority.
Moreover, Mohamed Abdel Quddous, chairman of the Journalists’ Syndicate’s freedoms committee, believes that the publishing ban was only imposed because Moustafa is a public figure “who is known for his connections with prominent political figures, adding that the decision to impose the ban might have not been taken had he been “an ordinary man.
Abdel Quddous went on to imply that by imposing the publishing ban, the prosecutor actually shot himself in the foot.
“Under any circumstances, the decision to prevent publishing or reporting on certain cases fuels rumors surrounding any case and contravenes justice, he said.
El-Sonbaty cited Article 69 of the constitution that stipulates that court hearings should be public while police investigations should be conducted discretely in order to reach the truth, since the public’s involvement can sometimes harm those involved in the case.
Also participating in the conference was Ahmed Ragab from the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, who spoke about the changes the Egyptian press underwent before and after 2001.
“Before 2001, the government was under the impression that it was able to control the press as all the national papers, which dominated the scene at the time, were under its authority, he explained.
“But after 2001 with the evolution of information technology and the emergence of many websites and blogs along with the emergence of private newspapers, the situation changed and the government felt that it lost its control over the press.
Ragab links this to the recent introduction of publishing bans by the Prosecutor General.
On the other hand, Wael El-Ebrashy, chief editor of Sout Al-Ummah independent weekly, does not see the imposing of publishing bans as anything new, but believes they have always existed in Egypt as a solution resorted to by the government whenever “it wants to kill a case.
He recalled a book that was published and updated every year by the Ministry of Interior during the 90s that included statistics of all the different types of crimes committed in Egypt. “This book no longer exists and when I asked why, I was told that it harms Egypt’s reputation – the same excuse that is always used by the government to hold back information from the public.
Hazem Al-Sherif, chief editor of Al-Mal newspaper explained the effect the publishing ban on the economy, given that Moustafa is the chairman of Talaat Moustafa Group.
According to Al-Sherif, Talaat Moustafa Group is important to two main sectors: the shareholders who have stocks in the company and the citizens who pay money to buy units in one of its residential compounds.
“Both entities are harmed by the publishing ban, Al-Sherif said, adding that both the Prosecutor General and Moustafa misled them – since Moustafa was in fact under investigation as he denied such rumors on national television.
“The disappearance of the chairman of any company usually has negative effects on the company’s internal and external status [both the employees at the company and the shareholders], Al-Sherif explained.
Al-Sherif also condemned local television channels as well as the government for misleading the public by allowing Moustafa to appear on TV denying ‘rumors’ of his involvement in the case.