As unconfirmed news of possible amendments to Article 33, concerning media, in the proposed Anti-terrorism Law circulate, member of the Journalists Syndicate Khaled al-Balshy told Mada Masr that they would only be happy if the law is completely abolished.
The Cabinet passed the controversial draft law last week on the same day that coordinated terrorist attacks took place in North Sinai, leading to over 100 deaths. The draft law has been going back and forth since then between the Cabinet and judicial authorities to ensure its constitutionality before it’s passed by the president.
Amid general concerns that the proposed law will result in increased breaches of human rights and freedoms, Article 33 caused the most violent backlash.
The article makes publishing news that is not inline with official statements on terrorist operations punishable by up to two years in prison.
The Journalists Syndicate held an emergency meeting last week and issued a statement rejecting the article for breaching media freedoms. Since then, several political entities and public figures have joined the syndicate in its rejection of the law, specifically the media-related articles.
Although he didn’t explicitly reject the law in its entirety, former head of the Journalists Syndicate Diaa Rashwan publicly rejected Article 33, calling for its amendment to protect media freedoms in line with the Constitution.
Privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper quoted unnamed cabinet sources on Wednesday saying that the government is leaning towards decreasing the penalty in the article to a fine of LE30,000-LE50,000.
Balshy said the Cabinet has shown willingness to amend the article in consultation with the Syndicate. However, he added that the prison penalty itself — which goes against the constitutional stipulation that prohibits custodial sentences for publishing crimes — is not the only problem.
“Another issue is setting official statements as the benchmark of truth; both are catastrophic,” he said, adding that there is no need for the article, as reporting false news is already punishable in the penal code.
The syndicate is due to hold a meeting with newspaper editors on Thursday to discuss the issue.
The Syndicate also flagged four other articles in the draft, including: criminalizing the “propagation of violent ideas and beliefs” by any means — online, in writing or in speech, which would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison, collecting information on anyone involved in the execution of the law with the intention to harm them, the recording of court sessions relating to the law, and the assimilation of information from courts — including on social media — without permission.