New York — Egyptian lawmakers should immediately withdraw their criminal complaint against Ibrahim Eissa, editor of Al-Maqal newspaper, and should stop harassing and threatening journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Speaker of the Parliament Ali Abdel-Aal and other leading lawmakers yesterday filed a complaint with Egypt's general prosecutor asking the state to investigate Eissa on charges of "insulting the parliament" in a series of satirical headlines published in Al-Maqal the previous day lambasting the parliament and government over its economic and foreign policy decisions, according to news reports. Article 184 of Egypt's penal code allows for fines of between 5,000-10,000 Egyptian pounds (US $309-$618) for insulting the parliament or other state institutions. Eissa's lawyer, Essam Abu Eissa, told CPJ that to his knowledge prosecutors had not yet acted on the complaint.
"Instead of pursuing charges against journalists for criticizing their performance, Egyptian lawmakers should uphold constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press by striking laws criminalizing 'insulting the parliament' from the books," CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington, D.C. "The speaker of the parliament's lodging of a criminal complaint against Ibrahim Eissa serves only to make the government appear thin-skinned and foolish."
Eissa suspended his TV talk show last month, citing unspecified "pressure," according to news reports. He did not elaborate on the reasons for the decision, but shortly before suspending the show, he had criticized laws conscribing church construction, criticism that similarly resulted in legal threats from Abdel-Aal, according to media reports. The journalist has repeatedly faced legal action for his sharp and often irreverent criticism of authorities over his decades-long career, according to CPJ research.