Journalists , media representatives and members of the parliament call for the establishment of a coalition for the freedom of information

November 23rd, 2009 by Editor

At the end of a seminar entitled “Towards a free information society” held by The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights in cooperation with the Center for Media Freedom in Middle East and North Africa – Morocco websoft with the support of Beyster Institute -California University on 22/11/2009 at EOHR’s office, a number of journalists , media personnel , legal experts , some representatives of Parliament , professionals of information systems and human rights activists agreed to establish a coalition for the freedom of information depending on the international standards . They call the government for declaring the bill prepared in this regard and managing a social dialogue accordingly.

Mr. Hafez Abu Seada, Secretary General of EOHR clarified that the freedom of circulating information and data is the basic standard for any democratic system, also it constitutes the most important tools for citizens to exercise their full rights of citizenship. The importance of citizen’s exercise of the right of access to information comes in strengthening the relationship between state and citizen, the matter which makes citizen has a strong interest in access to information and the desire to detect and limit violations and corruption.

Abu Seada added that by reviewing the Egyptian status, we find that the legal system has several laws that violate the principle of the freedom of accessing information such as

Law No. 121 of 1975, as amended by Law No. 22 of 1983 and Presidential decision No. 472 of 1979 on the preservation of official documents of The State and the organization of its publication, law No. 356 of 1954, and Law No. 35 of 1960 on the Statistics and Census, and the Civil Servants law No. 47 of 1978, the General Intelligence Law No. 100 of 1971. Abu Seada pointed out that journalists and media personnel face snags to access to information.

The secretary General confirmed the importance of establishing an Egyptian coalition for the freedom of information , this coalition will undertake the following:

1- Reviewing and amending all laws and procedures that impede access to information, to comply with international covenants on human rights signed and ratified by the Egyptian government according to article 151 of the constitution.

2- Passing a bill for the freedom and circulate information that reflect the international standards in the democratic societies.

3- Revising the legislative framework governing the freedom of opinion and expression in general and the freedom of the press in particular .

Abu Seada called for activating the initiative released by president Mubarak in the framework of his electoral program concerning the enactment of law for the freedom of information, he pointed out that this initiative should be activated and put it into effect.

The secretary general indicated that Sweden was the first country in the world which adopted a law that granting citizens the right to access to information . Also there are several laws concerned with circulating information in the countries such as :

Freedom of Information Law in the United States (1966), the Information Law in Thailand (1997), Information Law in Japan (1999), the law to Access to Information in Bulgaria (2000), the Law to promote access to information in South Africa (2001), Information Law in Mexico (2002), Information law in India ( 2003). In this regard, the Egyptian government can depend on the British law (2005) model which stated “the right of any person, regardless of age, nationality or place of residence, to access to government information, all that is required from him is to apply written application to the competent side determining the information needed . However, in the same time there are some issues and information may not be divulged or circulated , so the law itself could keep the secrecy of information , however it guarantee the freedom to access information.

Mr. Essam Shiha, lawyer at the cassation court agreed with Abu Seada his opinion as he confirmed the need to the law of circulating information in the light of the acquisition of all the countries of the world to these kind of laws. Shiha pointed out that there is no clear features for the bill prepared by the Government on freedom of information except for some press leakage which confirms that this bill will constraint the right to access information . Also the bill is full with many of the elastic expressions such as peace and social unity, transparency, promoting the performance of media and media message and controlling the satellite broadcast” in a clear violation to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by the Egyptian government under the law and become an integral part of the Constitution. The bill represents a violation to what stated by the declaration of United Nations / UNESCO / Sanaa 1966 on the independence and plurality of sources for obtaining information, and the Windhoek Declaration 1991 and the Alma Ata Declaration 1992 and the Santiago Declaration of 1994.

Mrs. Farida Al Nakash , editor in chief of Al Ahaly newspaper, indicated that there are several bills that restrict the freedom of circulating information such as the bill of video and audio broadcast and another one related to information circulation which is put forward in the 6th Conference of the National Democratic Party which is considered a vague bill . Also the government tends to enact a new law on terrorism, which in turn will impose several restrictions on freedoms including the freedom of information.

Al Nakash called for the necessary to abolish the state of emergency and to reconsider the bill of terrorism as it will legalize the state of emergency and this is considered a clear violation on public freedoms and the international conventions ratified by the government. She confirmed the necessary to establish the Egyptian coalition for the freedom of information leading to a proposed bill in this regard.

Mrs. Magda Morris, deputy of editor in chief of Al Gomhoria newspaper , confirmed that the absence of such law on freedom of information creates a poor relationship between the government and the press in general, journalists became a detective in order to obtain information which may not be true as well, so they punished by the law.
Morris appealed to enact this law because the non-issuance will offend the profession of journalism.

Aboul-Ezz Al Hariri, former Member of Parliament called for the enactment of a new constitution for the country, according to what settled by States which enjoy with an extent of freedom. Before talking about the bill of the freedom of information, we should provide an appropriate political environment for this law and the need to know the international experience in this regard .

Al-Hariri pointed out that the Government impedes the international efforts on the development of a framework of the United Nations Convention against corruption, adding that the United Nations has established a mechanism to monitor implementation of the agreement, and procedures of the states which sign the agreement ( 141 countries in the combating against corruption) .

This system imposed that there will be a mutual monitoring process between countries , Egypt agreed after pressures on this system to be monitored by such countries signed this agreement on such procedures in combating corruption , however it makes a condition that such reports related to this issues would be secret the matter which was rejected by the United Nations which confirmed that reports disclosure of the results is part of the constants and standards of the Convention which based on full transparency. He called the government for abandoning the principle of secrecy in accordance with the transparency and accountability . He confirmed the necessary to establish an Egyptian coalition for freedom of information to face corruption cases.

At the end of the seminar, participants called all civil society organizations and journalists and all those concerned to join the coalition , a legal committee will be formed under the coalition to pass the bill for the freedom of information. The first meetings of the coalition will be held soon to draft its document .

Participants recommends the following:

1 – Reviewing and amending all laws and procedures that impede access to information, to comply with international covenants on human rights signed and ratified by the Egyptian government in accordance with Article 151 of the Constitution.

2 – Passing a bill for freedom of information that reflects international standards in democratic societies.

3 – Revising the legislative framework that governing the freedom of opinion and expression in general , freedom of the press in particular with adding legislative amendments to articles that punish journalists with imprisonment in all laws related to expression, publishing and printing distributed in several laws, including the Press Law and the Penal Code and the law of regulating the press.

4 – Stating a legal mechanism for penalizing and questioning who hide information by any government or public entity and the prohibition of the imposition of any restrictions on the free flow of information, without prejudice the requirements of national defense and security and non-discrimination in access to information among the various newspapers, as well as developing controllers and codes of conduct for bloggers and legalizing their media position.

5 – Improving the performance of the national press institutions in order to enhance professional independence and increase their efficiency , and provide an opportunity for citizens to obtain information, and to identify different points of view through the mass media.

6 – Eliminating the dependence of the media to government bodies and the need to confirm in a clear and explicit way the commitment of the mass media (audio, TV ….etc) whether public or private with neutrality and objectivity.

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