First Published: 2013-01-23

 

Worse than Mubarak era: Lawsuits against journalists soar under Morsi

 

Soaring number of legal complaints against journalists casts doubt on Islamist President’s commitments to freedom of expression.

 

Middle East Online

By Haitham El-Tabei - CAIRO

Morsi’s 200 days in power worse than Mubarak’s 23 years

The Cairo cafe is packed with patrons in stitches as television host Bassem Youssef fires his caustic criticism at President Mohamed Morsi, but post-revolution media freedoms have proved no laughing matter for some.

Youssef's razor sharp wit, delivered on his weekly programme Albernameg (The Show), has spared few public figures, least of all President Morsi and members of his Muslim Brotherhood.

But the heart surgeon turned comedian who enjoys a massive following has now joined the ranks of several colleagues in the media who face charges of insulting the president.

The soaring number of legal complaints against journalists has cast doubt on Morsi's commitments to freedom of expression -- a key demand of the popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Prominent rights lawyer Gamal Eid told state-owned Ahram online that there have been four times as many lawsuits for "insulting the president" in Morsi's first 200 days in office than during the entire 30 years that Mubarak ruled.

During his election campaign, Morsi pledged to guarantee media freedom, and vowed "not to stop anyone from writing or ban any opinion" during his tenure.

But in recent months, the lawsuits have multiplied.

The presidency accused veteran journalist and television show host Mahmud Saad and his guest psychologist Manal Omar of insulting the president after she said Morsi who served jail time was suffering from psychological problems.

Morsi, a former senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, had several stints in jail under Mubarak.

The legal complaints are a "a very dangerous sign that the presidency believes freedom of opinion and expression must be restricted. The current regime is unwilling to deal with criticism," said Emad Mubarak, who heads the Association for Freedom and Thought of Expression.

"It seems that the presidency and its loyalists are on a campaign to scare journalists in order to have a soft and obedient media," he said.

According to human rights lawyers, under Mubarak, the presidency had never officially filed a legal complaint against a journalist.

But lawyers with ties to Mubarak's legal team filed the suits, such as in the case against outspoken journalist Ibrahim Eissa, accusing him of spreading rumours about Mubarak's health.

Eissa received a jail sentence in 2008 but was eventually pardoned by Mubarak.

The presidency denied it was targeting the media and said it "welcomed all constructive criticism and is against banning any opinion but when it comes to accusations against the president. The matter must go through a legal investigation to prove whether the claims are true or not."

Presidency spokesman Yasser Ali insisted that the legal complaints filed targeted news that is "entirely made up."

"Freedom in the new Egypt must be according to the law," he said.

The new Islamist-drafted constitution does not explicitly ban the jailing of journalists for their writings, and says that newspapers can be shut down or confiscated if there is a legal ruling.

Under the penal code, people can be jailed for up to three years for insulting the president or religions. But the wording is vague and can easily be manipulated, critics say.

"The problem is in the laws that allow for journalists to be subject to a criminal prosecution," said rights activist Negad al-Borei, who believes the issue leads to heavy self-censorship.

Earlier this month, the independent daily ran a a spoof issue entitled "Al-Watan under the Brotherhood", with pictures of its editor and journalists sporting Islamic beards and with articles praising Morsi.

"We came up with the idea because of all the pressures faced by the media," said the paper's editor-in-chief Magdi al-Gallad.

When it comes to media freedom, "Morsi's first six months are much worse than all of Mubarak's era. Mubarak was more politically savvy in dealing with the media," Gallad said.

The legal cases have also raised concerns abroad.

"We strongly oppose any kind of legal restrictions on freedom of expression, and we continue to urge the Egyptian government to respect freedom of expression," US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters during a recent briefing.

 

GCC states reject UN call for urgent Yemen ceasefire

US bolsters own naval presence in Arabian sea

Egypt court sentences Morsi to 20 years in prison

Fears of more migrant deaths as Mediterranean becomes mass grave

Qatar to float football fans during 2022 World Cup

Egypt's Morsi awaits likely death penalty

Iran to neighbours: Nuclear deal could open door to regional cooperation

Lebanon ex-minister admits transporting explosives from Syria

Italy considers 'targeted interventions' against people smugglers in Libya

Latest developments in Middle East remind Washington of Egypt’s key role

Egypt confirms death sentences against 22 Morsi supporters

Tunisia President plans visit to White House next month

France urges peace deal to restore order in Libya

Huthi forces crumble in face of Saudi-led air campaign

Mogherini: No more excuses on migrants

Lebanon receives first French weapons to bolster army

Saudi Arabia puts security forces on alert over possible attacks

US condemns IS 'brutal murder' against Christians in Libya

At least six killed in bomb attack on UN bus in Somalia

Yemen rebel leader vows resistance against Saudi-led ‘aggression’

Crisis of unemployment: Over 30% of Arab youth jobless

Arab army chiefs to discuss dream of joint military force

Libya peace talks 'very close' to final accord

Large wave of displacement as violence rages on in Anbar

Khamenei urges Iran military to increase ' defensive preparedness'

‘Islamic State’ claims executions of Ethiopia Christians in Libya

Egypt sentences 11 football fans to death in retrial after 2012 riot

Thousands of Yemen troops side with President Hadi

Tunisia prevents departure of more than 12,000 would-be jihadists

Unidentified gunman opens fire on pro-Kurdish party office in Turkey

Iraq PM's spokesman resigns over pro-Saddam song

Israel pledges to transfer frozen taxes to Palestinian Authority

'Differences' emerge in Libya peace talks

Saudi Arabia vows to cover UN aid appeal for Yemen

Iraqi forces kill Hussein deputy in Salahuddin province

Iraq massacre site turns into memorial

Israeli coalition talks approaching deadline

Turkish PM condemns EU resolution on Armenian genocide

Tehran calls for immediate Yemen peace talks

Assad accuses Turkey of torpedoing UN Aleppo truce plan

New round of Libya rival talks in Morocco

EU urged to label Israeli West bank products

General Dempsey: Military option on Iran 'intact'

UN chief calls for immediate Yemen ceasefire

Abadi to Iran: We welcome your help as long as you respect Iraq sovereignty