Al-Dostor editor Islam Afifi is set to stand trial on Thursday before the Giza Criminal Court in Cairo, reportedly on charges of publishing “false information” insulting to Egypt’s President Morsi.
“Both the authorities and the Muslim Brotherhood must accept public criticism of their positions and actions without trying to hide behind Mubarak-era laws criminalizing the exercise of the right to freedom of expression,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director.
“Egypt should uphold its international obligations and ensure people are not subject to criminal prosecution for peaceful criticism, even if what they say is perceived to be offensive.”
Al-Dostor, a daily newspaper and website, came under investigation by Egypt’s Public Prosecution following complaints over its criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood. The paper is known for its editorial stand against the movement, including a June article where al-Dostor claimed the Muslim Brotherhood was preparing a “massacre” if Mohamed Morsi lost the country’s presidential election.
An issue of al-Dostor published on 11 August was confiscated by the authorities after it claimed the Muslim Brotherhood was trying to establish an “Islamic state” in Egypt.
President Morsi, who resigned from the Muslim Brotherhood after he won the election, had publicly warned media on 9 August against spreading “rumours” that would destabilize Egypt.
“It is very disappointing that journalists continue to face prosecution in Egypt for their writing in spite of the ‘25 January Revolution’ and its hopes for change,” said Amnesty International.
Egypt is a state party to the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression.
Amnesty International had called on President Morsi in a June memorandum to review and repeal provisions of Egyptian law which, under the rule of Hosni Mubarak and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (the SCAF), were frequently used to suppress criticism of the authorities and public figures.
“The authorities must not fall into the same pattern of media repression as under Hosni Mubarak and the SCAF and withstand criticism,” said Amnesty International.
Under Mubarak and the SCAF, the authorities confiscated newspapers and suspended television channels. Journalists and public figures criticizing the authorities were liable to face criminal defamation charges.
Under the SCAF, Amnesty International documented incidents of army troops and security forces raiding television studios reporting on crackdowns on demonstrations, and military prosecutors also summonsed and questioned journalists and others who publicly criticized the ruling military council.
The use of criminal defamation charges in Egypt has been criticised by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, in its ruling on an Egyptian blogger in November 2008.
The WGAD said that charges related to defamation, libel and slander should be dealt with by the Egyptian authorities under civil, not criminal, law, and that there should not be prison sentences for such charges.
The WGAD stated: “The fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression, which is the core basis of the human rights system, must prevail when it implies political criticism, even when this criticism is focused in the activities of some concrete persons who have assumed high political responsibilities.”