The Press Syndicate’s council sent a memo to the State Council on Saturday on the unified media and press law, objecting many articles that were previously agreed upon.
A bill addressing press freedom and media institutionalisation in Egypt has been subject to tense discussions since August 2015.
Some substantial changes took place in the bill following the appointment of former minister of justice Ahmed Al-Zind. A new version of the bill which contradicted with many core articles in the initially proposed bill was announced in press statements by Al-Zind. A national legislative committee including representatives from the media, press, ministries of justice and planning, and the State Council was formed and had further discussed the bill over 18 sessions.
However, the syndicate said that Article 38, which tackles pretrial detention, was changed. According to the memo, the initial version of the article stated that it is not allowed to temporarily detain or release on bail journalists or media personnel for crimes related to their work. But the amended version, which the syndicate objected, cancels this condition and allows temporary detention or release on bail in publishing violations related to incitement, hate, or discrimination.
The syndicate believes that this article is a tool to allow pretrial detention in publishing crimes, after they tried to ban it in the original version of the bill.
“There are already more than 60 articles in the current legislations that allow detention over publishing crimes—something that the new bill tries to eliminate,” the syndicate memo read. “Putting this article back in is a regressive step.”
The penal code does not allow pretrial detention for publishing crimes as stipulates Article 134. Further, the Constitution does not specify certain conditions for pretrial detention, but leaves it up to the legislator.
The unified media and press law is the first legislature to organise media occupations and group them together, and is expected to overhaul the existing media law passed in 1996.
It boasts many merits, like allowing photography and filming in public spaces. However, besides the pretrial detention of journalists, there are other concerns related to modifications concerning appointments of the heads of national press councils, and the retirement age. The bill is currently pending review by the parliament after several unjustified delays.