Although many rejoiced as President Mohamed Morsi issued a presidential decree canceling article 41 of the penal code last Thursday, August 23, and effectively cancelling the preventive detention of journalists in publishing offences, others weren’t as ecstatic.
It was a right that should have been guaranteed to the press a long time ago to follow suit with the rest of the world, many argued. Many activists, politicians and media people argued that the constitution needs to include articles and a legal framework that will protect the freedoms of opinion, expression, and media, which shouldn’t all depend on presidential decrees or pardons.
Detaining journalists or imprisoning them for publishing offences are not common procedures worldwide, and they are against universal human rights
It also came as a surprise because it closely followed the arrest of Islam Affifi, the editor in chief of Al-Dostour newspaper, the shutdown of Al-Faraeen channel and the case against its owner Tawfik Okasha who, along with Afifi, was accused of defaming the president, inciting sedition and spreading false news.
The media crackdown was faced with severe criticism from reporters, human rights groups, and the activists. Others urged that the Constitutional Assembly put articles and a legal framework in the new constitution that will protect the freedoms of opinion, expression, and media.
Egypt Vs. The World:
In many places around the world journalists who intentionally defame persons, incite sedition, or spread false news and information are prohibited from doing so and would receive a fine or pay compensations if they did.
In Egypt, however, things used to be drastically different. Egyptian law stipulated that the punishment of these actions would lie in detention and imprisonment when other countries around the world considered the punishment of these actions by imprisonment as out of proportion.
The United Nations has often issued statements rejecting imprisonment as a punishment for these offences because it saw it as contradictory to article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right of free expression.
Althoug most developed nations don't impose prison sentence against journalists , detention of journalists is not exclusive to Egypt. On the August 17, seven journalists and reporters in Iran were released from imprisonment after detentions, bails, and lashes for publishing crimes, criticizing the regime, and expressing their opinions in publications. In Turkey, journalist Ozan Kilinç was released despite being tried, charged, and sentenced to six years imprisonment for publishing propaganda for the outlawed PKK (Kurdistan workers party).
In contrast, US journalist Judith Miller, formerly from the New York Times, had written a number of stories that were later discovered to contain false news. Miller had published multiple stories on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. The New York Times public editor at the time, as well as other colleagues, admitted that Miller had published many stories with false information and had suggested that she should leave the New York Times. Neither the US government nor the courts had pursued legal action against Miller on the account of spreading false news, citing the first amendment that protects freedom of religion, assembly, expression, and press.
Lawsuits brought against journalists for defamation, slander and libel in the US and most of Europe are only punishable by fines. Libel and defamation cases are heard before civil courts and juries which then decide if the publication or the journalist did indeed commit libel as well as determine the amount of money the harmed person should have in compensation. et