The Supreme Judicial Council’s decision issued Monday to impose a gag on publishing news related to judges and the judiciary on websites is targeted at judges, not the media, two experts told Daily News Egypt on Tuesday.
According to lawyer Negad El-Borei, the concept behind the decision is not new, but has been implemented since the 2000s as judges were constantly asked not to discuss judicial matters with the media.
“Judges were always instructed not to provide opinions on ongoing judicial cases on the assumption of maintaining their objectivity when dealing with cases,” El-Borei said.
According to him, there was no mechanism implemented to monitor judges in whether they were abiding by or violating the instructions but after 2012, penalisation measures were undertaken.
“Moreover, instructions to judges were expanded to include social media networks. Judges had not only been publicly commenting on ongoing cases, but also discussing internal institutional affairs, such as promotions and other administrative matters, in closed groups on social media networks,” El-Borei said.
In May, the local Al-Youm Al-Sabea news website reported that 50 judges were referred to investigations over making political comments on the publicly controversial case known as the “Red Sea islands” case. They included two deputy presidents of the Cassation Court, Egypt’s highest judicial authority.
El-Borei referred to another incident in which “indecent” photos of Judge Nagy Shehata were widely shared on Facebook.
“These photos were stolen from Shehata’s personal account, after which he had to come out with a statement denying that he had any personal accounts on the network,” El-Borei said.
He added that judges were given further instructions regarding the choice of their personal photos on social media. “They were asked not to share personal photos and always appear in their uniform in any picture on social media,” he said.
The Supreme Judicial Council’s decision did not include anything regarding print or broadcast media outlets. It further stated that those who would violate it would be subject to disciplinary measures.
As so, Tamer Mowafy, researcher at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), concluded that the decision addressed judges, not the media, based on the facts that the council was in charge of only judges’ affairs and that its decision talked about disciplinary judges which are also limited to the internal judicial institution.
Mowafy had worked on a recently published paper by the AFTE evaluating the legal context and implementation of media gags in Egypt. The paper argued that the use of media gags should be a justified exception in democratic societies that value the right of the public to be informed. Media gags used to prevent external influences on ongoing investigations or trial cases.
“Only the general prosecution authority or a judge assigned to investigating a legal case have the right to order media gags,” Mowafy explained. “Also, a judge examining an ongoing case can decide to have private sessions and instruct the media not to publish details,” he added, in accordance with the Criminal Procedures Law.
Dozens of media gags have been imposed in legal cases in Egypt after the 30 June uprising. The Press Syndicate crisis with the Ministry of Interior in 2016 has been the only case the press community collectively refuted and violated, because they considered the case at the core of freedom of expression which they had been battling for.
Many local news websites have a black ribbon reading “no to media gags” until current date.