|Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, Egyptian President|
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New anti-terrorist law recently drafted by Egypt’s Cabinet of Ministers and awaiting Presidential approval criminalizes reporting of terrorism and military operation statistics that differ from those the government and Armed Forces provide.
Under the new anti-terrorist law journalists and reporters including the foreign journalists can be accused of spreading false information and can face two years in jail if they publish figures and data that contradict the official statistics and numbers presented by Egypt’s authorities.
The article concerned outlaws the international publications of “false news or data about any terrorist operations that contradicts the official statements released by the relevant authorities,” according to the draft law. This law also extends punishments for other terrorism-related charges.
This move follows the recent wave of terrorist activities and a massive military operation carried out by Egyptian Armed Forces and police in Northern Sinai cities of Sheikh-Zuweid, Al-Arish and Rafah. Dozens of Sinai based militants, members of Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis group that recently pledged its allegiance to ISIS and proclaimed itself Sinai Province of ISIS (Vilayat Sinai), attacked on Wednesday, 1 July, at least 15 military bases and checkpoints in Al-Arish, Sheikh-Zuweid and Rafah, in an attempt to seize the control over these cities.
It was one of the bloodiest attacks against Egyptian soldiers and security forces carried out since the ouster of Egypt’s former President Mohamed Morsi. Massive military operation was launched by Egyptian Armed and Security Forces in Northern Sinai, as hundreds of military troops and heavy military technique and weapons were deployed to the area. Aerial strikes of Egyptian military targeted numerous bases and facilities of the terrorist group as well. During the military operation that lasted since 1 July till 5 July Egyptian military restored its control over the city of Sheikh-Zuweid that experienced the hardest attack of the jihadists, as hundreds of terrorists were killed in the strikes.
This attack left 17 Egyptian soldiers and policemen dead and 13 injured, while more than 100 militants were killed during the military operation and more than 150 were killed during the following aerial strikes as well. Though, unofficial sources claim the number of casualties was much higher, with at least 70 people killed and dozens wounded. Many foreign media outlets cited those unofficial sources reporting the higher numbers of death toll that sparked criticism of Egypt’s authorities, as the journalists were “spreading false information” regarding the military operation and Armed Forces losses, and these data contradicted heavily with the officials statistics.
After announcing this anti-terrorism draft law that criminalized reporting of terrorism statistics that contradicts with the official statements Egypt was accused of actually making assault on freedom of speech and curbing the rights of journalists to report and the rights of people to get the fair and balanced information, as this law actually means there is only one point of view which is the official one.
Gamal Eid, Executive Director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), an NGO based in Cairo, condemned the law proposal and compared it with the Goebbels’ time’s media in Nazi Germany. He stated that this proposal is against freedom of speech and freedom of press and that it is also against the critical and professional journalism.
Egypt’s Justice Minister Ahmed El-Zind in his turn told that that there was no choice but to impose some stricter standards for reporting the terrorism related information. He stated that Egyptian government has the duty to defend and protect its citizens including protecting them from the false information. Mr. El-Zind also called on the society and foreign media and NGOs as well not to interpret this law as an attack against freedom of speech and press.
Since the government of Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi took power in the country, Egyptian officials often criticized foreign and local media as well that reported narratives that conflicted with the official statistics and statements. Thus, the recently written anti-terrorist law that criminalizes reporting any information and statements contradicting with the official stance is currently awaiting Presidential approval.