UPDATE: On Monday, November 28, the Egyptian parliament’s constitutional and legislative affairs committee rejected the Free Egyptians Party’s draft law to amend the publication-related provisions of Law No. 58 of 1937. While the amendments that would abolish prison terms for publication offenses was rejected, members of the committee within the House of Representatives accepted the draft law’s proposal to restrict the filing of cases of violation of public decency to prosecutors, barring private citizens from this capability. The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) is concerned by this decision, as the rejected amendments would have aligned Egypt’s penal code with constitutional commitments which prohibit imprisonment as a punitive measure for publication offenses.
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The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) applauds the effort of the Free Egyptians Party (FEP) to submit a draft law on amendments to laws limiting freedom of expression. The proposed submission replaces all jail sentences in publication offenses with fines in one of the first pieces of draft legislation presented before Egypt’s newly elected parliament to safeguard rights and freedoms.
On April 6, 2016, the FEP announced that the party is presenting a draft law to amend the publication-related provisions of Law No. 58 of 1937 (the Egyptian Penal Code).
According to the FEP, the draft law is being submitted by over 60 members of parliament, allowing the legislation to be debated on the floor of the House of Representatives immediately.
The FEP draft law brings Egypt’s penal code in line with its constitutional commitments that clearly prohibit any freedom-restricting sanctions, particularly jail time, for publication, artistic, and literary offenses. Under Article 67 of the Constitution, “No freedom-restricting sanction may be inflicted for crimes committed because of the publicity of artistic, literary, or intellectual product.” Additionally, under Article 71 of the Constitution, “No freedom-restricting penalty shall be imposed for publication or publicity crimes.”
The draft law comes in the wake of a number of egregious prison sentences against authors of journalistic and literary works, including Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji, who was sentenced to two years in prison for explicit content in a work of fiction on February 20, 2016. TIMEP’s petition in solidarity with Naji has garnered more than 8,600 signatures to date.
Freedom of expression should be encouraged and not be punishable by law. TIMEP commends this draft law as a great step toward safeguarding freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and freedom of creativity in the Constitution, but also challenges what appears to be an escalating crackdown against independent voices.
The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of democratic transitions in the Middle East through analysis, advocacy, and action.