Document - Egypt: Broadcaster’s conviction for “insulting the President” another blow to freedom of expression
Index: MDE 12/033/2012
23 October 2012
Egypt: Broadcaster’s conviction for “insulting the President” another blow to freedom of expression
Monday’s conviction of an Egyptian broadcaster for “insulting the President” is a further blow to freedom of expression, Amnesty International said.
A court in the governorate of Luxor sentenced Tawfiq Okasha to four months in prison. Okasha was not present for the verdict, but was reportedly ordered to pay bail pending an appeal.
The trial reportedly followed a complaint from an ex-member of Parliament about comments the broadcaster had made about President Morsi on his talk show, Egypt Today. Tawfiq Okasha is a vocal critic of the Morsi administration and has reportedly been the subject of a number of similar defamation cases. He is also currently being tried in a separate case for allegedly inciting violence against President Morsi. In August, his television channel, Al-Faraeen, was suspended – apparently in response to his statements about the authorities. At the time of writing, it remains off air.
The conviction is the latest attack on freedom of expression in Egypt, where in recent months several individuals, including journalists and broadcasters, have faced criminal investigation or charges for defaming the authorities. Criminal charges have also been brought against others for “defaming religion”.
Amnesty International has repeatedly urged the authorities to accept public criticism of their positions and actions – no matter how offensive. As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Egypt must guarantee the right to freedom of expression. However, defamation remains a criminal offence in Egyptian law and those who criticize the authorities publicly face the threat of imprisonment. Article 179 of the Egyptian Penal Code, under which Tawfiq Okasha was reportedly convicted on Monday, sets a maximum of two years’ imprisonment for “insulting the President”.
The use of criminal defamation charges in Egypt has been criticized by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. In its November 2008 decision on an Egyptian blogger, the Working Group said that the Egyptian authorities should deal with charges related to defamation, libel and slander under civil law, and that there should not be prison sentences for such charges.
If imprisoned on the sole basis of “insulting” the President, Amnesty International would consider Tawfiq Okasha to be a prisoner of conscience and would call for his immediate and unconditional release.
Amnesty International is calling on the Egyptian authorities to strike out all provisions in law which suppress freedom of expression, in particular legislation on defamation which allows for individuals who have criticized the authorities, or religion, to face prison sentences.
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s November 2008 decision 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.”
In recent months, Amnesty International has documented the cases of a number of individuals being tried on charges relating to freedom of expression. They include Islam Affifi, an editor on trial for “insulting the President” in al-Dostor newspaper, and Alber Saber Ayad, an activist on trial for “defamation of religion”.
The organization is also investigating other cases, including reports of individuals under criminal investigation for defaming members of the judiciary and of individuals of different religions being accused and convicted of blasphemy. These include the case of a Shi’a man reportedly charged with desecrating a mosque, that of two Muslim men reportedly charged with defaming Christianity for burning the Bible and that of a Christian man reportedly sentenced to six years in prison for posting pictures on the Internet which were deemed offensive to Islam.