The new anti-terrorism law was met with harsh criticism from international rights groups after being ratified by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi Sunday night.
The law is said to be aimed at combating Islamist militants, but it grants courts and security forces broad powers against suspected terrorists and journalists reporting on terrorist attacks.
“Egyptians are entering an Orwellian world in which only the government is allowed to say what is happening. Even in countries where freedom of information is highly restricted, laws rarely suppress pluralism so blatantly,” Reporters Without Borders secretary general Christophe Deloire said in a Monday press statement.
“Egypt is sinking ever deeper into a terrible despotism that not only wants to control information and detain journalists, but also put them under even more pressure than during the Mubarak era,” Deloire warned.
The group was particularly critical of an article that stipulates fines of LE200,000-500,000 for media outlets that publish material contradicting official accounts of security operations.
The draft version of the law called for prison sentences for journalists who disseminate “false” accounts of counter-terror operations. After protests from the Journalists Syndicate, the law was revised to call for fines instead of imprisonment, but disseminating “false” reports remains a criminal offense in the ratified law.
“Is journalism is now a crime?” Deloire asked. “In Egypt clearly yes, because the Sisi regime is using this new ‘anti-terrorism law’ to ban journalists from contradicting its own version of events.”
In a separate Monday statement, the International Commission of Jurists condemned the law as a ”repressive move that would erode the rule of law and brush aside fundamental legal and human rights guarantees.”
The law is “inconsistent with, and in numerous ways violates, Egypt’s obligations under international law,” the ICJ said. Among these violated principles are the rights to life, liberty, privacy, fair trials and freedom from arbitrary detention, the group claimed.
Said Benarbia, director of the ICJ’s Middle East and North Africa program, called on the government to comprehensively revise the law.
Local rights groups also condemned the bill when it first circulated in July.
A joint statement circulated by 40 Egyptian rights organizations and political parties on July 15 demanded that the bill be scrapped, or at least delayed until it could be debated by an elected parliament.
But the law does have local support from other sectors.
Last month, Culture Ministry official Hossam Nassar launched a call to boycott print and online newspapers that objected to the law, accusing them of “supporting terrorism.”
A Facebook page associated with Nassar’s campaign, called the “Boycotting Journalism New Agency,” has garnered more than 7,700 likes. When it reaches 25,000 likes, the group has promised to launch a news portal that would eventually build up to a full-fledged news site.