Journalists hold silent protest against attacks on press freedom

Dozens of journalists held a silent protest at the headquarters of the Journalists Syndicate Sunday to protest repressive media censorship policies and the killing of a colleague at a protest earlier this month.

The journalists, from various independent newspapers such as Al-Wafd, Al-Dostour and Al-Fagr, wore masks and wielded pens and cameras to protest what they decry as government attacks on freedom of journalism and expression.

Protesters raised banners reading: “No to handcuffing the media and journalism,” “No to a constitution that suppresses the freedoms of media and journalism,” “No to attacking newspapers’ headquarters,” and “Down with the Shura Council,” in reference to the body’s control over selecting the heads of state-owned newspapers.

They also mourned Al-Fagr photojournalist Al-Husseini Abu Deif, who was killed at a protest outside the presidential palace on 5 December.

Gamal Fahmy, deputy chief of the Journalists Syndicate; Alaa al-Attar, editor-in-chief of the Al-Ahram website; and Yehia Qallash, head of the committee in defense of freedoms, took part in the protest, which aimed to pressure the ruling regime to stop harassing journalists.

Since being elected president, Mohamed Morsy has attacked the media in general, accusing it of serving the ousted regime of former President Hosni Mubarak. Dozens of journalists have been summoned to trial in recent months for expressing critical views of Morsy.

Last August, Morsy issued a decree to prohibit the pre-trial detention of journalists accused of “publishing offenses,” after a court remanded into custody a newspaper editor standing trial for defaming the president.

But critics say that the detention of journalists is still possible following any convictions in these “publishing offenses” trials. And since the incident, the president’s office has continued to file complaints against journalists and other public figures expressing critical views of Morsy.

This month, the president’s office reportedly complained about psychiatrist Manal Omar, who critically analyzed Morsy’s character on television.

The complaints against journalists have not only come from the president’s office, with Islamist activists bringing charges of their own.

On Sunday, Public Prosecutor Talaat Abdallah ordered an investigation into charges brought by former Salafi MP Mamdouh Ismail saying that Ibrahim Eissa, a prominent newspaper editor and television presenter, committed religious blasphemy and threatened national unity on his TV show. In his charge, Ismail said Eissa mocked verses of the Quran and spoke ill of the president.

Essam Sultan, vice president of the Wasat Party, demanded on Facebook Sunday that President Mohamed Morsy waive all charges against journalists.

He also called on the Shura Council to reduce the punishment for anyone convicted of insulting the Egyptian president to a fine, instead of the current penalty of imprisonment.

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