Minister: Article 33 of anti-terror law aimed at social media, not press

Transitional Justice Minister Ibrahim al-Heneidy claimed that the highly controversial Article 33 of the new terrorism law was meant for “social media that agitates public opinion and not the press,” privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper reported. 

The terrorism law in question was passed by the Cabinet earlier in July in the wake of the assassination of Prosecutor General Hesham Barakat and the unprecedented attacks in North Sinai which left tens of victims among the military and civilians. 

Article 33 has been especially problematic for journalists as it makes publishing news on terrorist operations that is not in line with official statements punishable by up to two years in prison. 

Meanwhile, the draft law already has a special focus on social media, stipulating five-year prison terms for anyone found guilty of propagation or intended propagation of “ideas and beliefs calling for the use of violence” through social media or other tools.

In his statement on Thursday, Heneidy said that the Journalists Syndicate and a number of chief editors of newspapers filed three suggestions to amend the article during their meeting with Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb on Wednesday. The suggestions included removing the article all together, including it in another law or substituting prison sentences for monetary fines.

“The journalists didn’t reach a consensus on what to do. Some of them made suggestions, others said the government already knows their stance on the topic,” he added. 

Heneidy explained that the government will give its official response to the aforementioned suggestions following a meeting between Heneidy, the minister of justice and the prime minister. 

He also asserted that the reason behind not having public dialogue over the draft law before announcing it was because “it had been shelved for years.”

“The cabinet requested moving forward with the law following recent events to face the current situation,” he added. 

Last week, the Journalists Syndicate held an emergency meeting and issued a statement rejecting the article for breaching media freedoms. Several political groups and figures also expressed concern regarding the same article and other problematic ones in the law. 

Member of the Journalists Syndicate Khaled al-Balshy had told Mada Masr that the Cabinet has shown willingness to amend the article in consultation with the syndicate. However, he added that the prison penalty itself — which goes against the constitutional stipulation that prohibits custodial sentences for publishing crimes — is not the only problem.

Balshy raised another related issue — setting official statements as the benchmark of truth — describing it as “catastrophic.” He asserted that there is no need for the article to begin with, as reporting false news is already punishable in the penal code.

The syndicate had criticized four other articles in the draft, including: criminalizing the “propagation of violent ideas and beliefs” by any means — online, in writing or in speech, which would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison; collecting information on anyone involved in the execution of the law with the intention to harm them; the recording of court sessions relating to the law; and the assimilation of information from courts, including on social media, without permission.

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