Egypt: Draft Law Banning Publishing of Information Concerning the Armed Forces

(Nov. 19, 2014) On November 6, 2014, the legislative department of the State Council of Egypt (a judicial organ) approved a draft law banning the publication in media outlets of any information concerning the armed forces. The State Council referred the draft law to the Council of Ministers, the country’s Cabinet, for further debate and final approval. (The State Council Refers a Draft Law Banning the Publishing of Any News Related to the Armed Forces to the Council of Ministers [in Arabic], AL MASRY AL YOUM (Nov. 6, 2014).)

Highlights of the Draft Law Provisions

The draft law prohibits the publication without permission of any information or news about the armed forces in daily and weekly newspapers, on TV and radio channels, and also on social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. (The Final Text of a Draft Law on the Prohibition of Publishing News on the Army [in Arabic], AL BAWABA (Nov. 9, 2014).)

The draft law also requires that advance permission be obtained from the General Command of the Armed Forces before the following kinds of information are published: the number of Egypt’s military units, statistics or data on the movement of forces, the performance of those forces, military strategies, and “any other information that might harm the security of the members of the armed forces.” (Id.)

The draft law imposes sanctions against individuals who violate the prohibition. The sanctions include a term of imprisonment of six months to five years, in addition to a fine of L.E.10,000-L.E.50,000 (about US$1,403-$7,013). If the violation takes place during a time of war or a state of emergency, the penalty will be increased to long-term imprisonment and a fine of L.E.100,000-L.E.200,000. (Id.)

Civil Society Reactions to the Draft Law

According to news reports, human rights groups have denounced the draft law. They consider it to be one of a series of recent measures adopted by the Egyptian authorities to extend military control over the country’s media outlets. The rights groups also claim that the draft law will eradicate the freedom of speech gained after the January 25, 2011, revolution against former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. A representative of what is known as “the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression,” a Cairo-based organization, commented that if such a law is approved by the Council of Ministers, it would constitute an infringement of the Egyptian people’s right to access information and right of free speech. (Patrick Kingsley, Egypt Mulls Military News Ban, GUARDIAN (Nov. 7, 2014).)

On the other hand, 17 editors of major state and private newspapers recently agreed to avoid criticizing the performance of certain government agencies. They announced their “rejection of attempts to doubt state institutions or insult the army or police or judiciary in a way that would reflect negatively on these institutions’ performance.” (Id.)