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.

 

Iraq forces look to build floating bridge in Mosul

Erdogan ‘not welcome’ to campaign in Austria

Israel bombs Gaza after rocket attack

Ailing Bouteflika 'doing well' despite health scare

Film on Syria's White Helmets wins Academy Award

Libya PM to visit Moscow seeking better ties

Conditions in Libya driving migration to Europe

Is Jordan signalling a shift in its Syria strategy?

11 killed in Syria regime raids

Israeli checkpoint guards shoot Palestinian woman

Saudi Aramco to invest $7 billion in Malaysia oil refinery

Referendum set to be tight race for Turkey’s Erdogan

Cyber attacks in Gulf countries on the rise

Iraqi forces reach key Mosul bridge

UN urges negotiating Syria rivals to avoid insults

EU border agency says migrant rescues encourage traffickers

Israeli officials brace for Gaza war report

Key Egyptian legislator says poverty more dangerous than terrorism

UN chief says disregard for rights 'spreading'

GCC geopolitics spike military sales at IDEX

ISIS has brought Saudi Arabia and the United States closer

Morocco to withdraw from Western Sahara tension zone

Shia leadership struggle ahead after Khamenei and Sistani

The huge risks of Trump’s call to ‘take’ Iraqi oil

Trump set to zero in on Hezbollah in bid to curb Iran

Time bomb of unemployment among Arab youth

Push on IS capital Raqqa gathers momentum

Woman journalist says targeted by hardliners in Sudan

Iran's Ahmadinejad writes open letter to Trump

Iran's Rouhani to run for re-election

Kurdish reporter killed while covering Mosul battle

Libya govt secures ceasefire after Tripoli clashes

Boosting presidental powers will 'stabilise' Turkey, says PM

Saudi Foreign Minister in landmark visit to Iraq

Iraqi forces push deeper into west Mosul

Suicide attacks kill 42 in Syria's Homs

Top US commander in secret Syria trip

Israel to deny Human Rights Watch visas for being ‘biased’

UN considers Syria sanctions over chemical attacks

Saudi Comic-Con slammed as ‘sin’ in online backlash

Jordanians protest government price hikes

Baghdad coordinated anti-IS airstrikes with Damascus says source

New Hamas Gaza leader makes first public appearance

Palestinian protestors clash with Israeli soldiers in West Bank

Jordanian F-16 crashes in Saudi, pilot survives