Egypt editor freed

The editor of an independent Egyptian daily was released from jail late on Thursday just hours after the country’s president issued a law that bans the imprisonment of journalists accused of media-related offences.

By (Agencies)

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Published: Sat 25 Aug 2012, 12:43 AM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 2:01 PM

The case against Islam Afifi has sparked an outcry from journalists and intellectuals who view the lawsuit as an attack on free speech similar to the types of legal maneuvering used by the former regime of authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in a last year’s popular uprising, to silence its opponents.

Afifi, who is the editor-in-chief of the Al Dustour newspaper owned by the leader of the opposition Wafd Party, has been charged with slandering the president and harming public interest with inflammatory articles. He had already been banned from travelling abroad.

A Cairo court on Thursday ordered Afifi to remain in jail pending trial in September. Hours after the court’s decision, President Mohammed Mursi issued a law that bans imprisoning journalists for media-related charges until court verdicts are handed down.

Afifi, who still faces trial, was photographed smiling and being greeted by newspaper staff after his release late on Thursday.

The decree would affect those awaiting trial for offenses such as libel, defamation and slander.

Mursi became the country’s first freely elected civilian president in late June. Since Mursi took office, Al Dustour has regularly published articles warning of alleged Brotherhood plots and conspiracies to turn Egypt into a fundamentalist state.

It also promoted an anti-Brotherhood demonstration on Friday, initially calling for the torching of Brotherhood offices but later amending its call and instead urging protesters to hold peaceful rallies in Cairo. The protests on Friday against the Brotherhood were small, but seen as a significant test of how Mursi will respond to the opposition.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists hailed the law issued by Mursi, but urged authorities to halt “an alarming rise in repression that has included newspaper confiscations, criminal prosecutions, and assaults against journalists”.

“Mursi’s decision does not cancel the fierce attacks on the media that were led by Brotherhood members and its timing is only a last minute attempt to cancel demonstrations,” political analyst Mustapha Al Sayyid said.

Although activists generally praised Mursi’s decision saying it went some way to satisfying the expectations of many Egyptians who believed last year’s overthrow of Mubarak would lead to greater media freedom, many said it was not enough.

“We welcome the decision but it is not all we ask for, we want a law that bans any form of detention in crimes related to the Press and not only a bar on journalists’ detentions pending trials,” human rights activist Gamal Eid said.

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