Amid a backlash against an Egyptian law threatening to jail journalists who do not follow the official line in their reporting on terrorist attacks, Egypt has agreed to drop the proposed sentence.
The Egyptian cabinet decided on Thursday to amend the article of its anti-terrorism law and fine those who report anything but the official line on jihadists attacks, Cairo-based Middle East News Agency reported.
On July 1, the Egyptian cabinet approved a draft anti-terrorism law which included an article threatening at least two years in prison for publishing “false information on terrorist attacks that contradict official statement,” the Guardian reported.
The announcement came after the media coverage of a wave of jihadist attacks against the army in the Sinai Peninsula. The military said 21 soldiers were killed in the violence, but media agencies reported higher death tolls, citing unnamed security sources.
But on Thursday, the cabinet replaced the imprisonment with a heavy fine. Cabinet Spokesman Hossam Qawish announced that the fine can range from 200,000 to 500,000 Egyptian pounds ($2,500 to $6,400).
The mounting crackdown on journalists in Egypt has been a concern for international organizations that promote press freedom and defend the rights of journalists.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported on June 25 that Egypt has the highest number of journalists behind bars since the organization began keeping records on the country in 1990. The report details the incarceration of 18 journalists in Egypt.
Prior to the passage of the new laws restricting press freedom, Egypt wasn't included in the CPJ's April report on the 10 most censored countries. The New York-based organization’s 2015 annual list ranks Eritrea as the worst country, followed by North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Iran, China, Myanmar, and Cuba.
Noting that imprisonment is the most effective form of intimidation and harassment used against journalists, the group adds that seven of those countries – Eritrea, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Iran, Myanmar, and China – are also among the worst jailers of the press.
According to CPJ, last year 221 journalists were imprisoned, mostly in China (44), Iran (30) and Eritrea (23).
Reporters Without Borders’ 2015 index which offers a ranking of 180 countries based on press freedom, considers Eritrea, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Syria, and China, as the five worst and Finland, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, and Sweden as the five best countries. The United States is ranked 49.
Besides imprisonment and censorship, the killing of journalists is another ongoing problem. CPJ, which runs the “Global Campaign Against Impunity” says 755 journalists have been murdered worldwide since 1992, from which 652 were killed with impunity.
In November 2013, the United Nations General Assembly adopted its first resolution on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity. It also named November 2 as "International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists."
And in February, the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma announced global safety principle and practices for freelancers around the world which is endorsed by some major news organizations.