Egypt mulls law to prosecute ′political commentators′ amid free expression crackdown | News | DW | 20.11.2017
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Egypt mulls law to prosecute 'political commentators' amid free expression crackdown

Lawmakers have drafted a new law to punish "political commentators and intellectuals" for defaming historical symbols. Egypt has witnessed a widening crackdown on free expression with fresh arrests and raids.

Egyptian's parliament is set to discuss a law aimed at giving authorities powers to prosecute "political commentators and intellectuals who are heavily involved in defaming the country's historical and religious symbols," local media reported on Monday.

A person found guilty could face between three to seven years in prison and up to a 500,000-Egyptian-pound (24,100 euros, $28,300) fine, according to a legislative proposal by pro-government lawmaker Omar Hamroush, who heads parliament's religious affairs committee.

Read more: Egyptian rappers fight against censorship

"We should not let some exploit freedom of expression to tarnish the image of these historical figures in the eyes of the people or defame them, because this could leave a very negative impact on young people, leading them to feel disappointment and frustration and lose trust in their country and its leaders," said Hamroush, according to state-run al-Ahram news outlet.

'Inquisition courts'

The law emerged as a response to talk show hosts challenging the role of historical and religious figures in the making of Egypt's modern history. But some lawmakers have refused to back the law despite growing support in parliament for the punitive measures. Independent lawmaker Samir Ghattas told reporters on Sunday he was against the draft law.

"This draft law reminds me of the Inquisition courts that were dominant in Europe in the medieval era," said Ghattas. Since the rise of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt has witnessed a widening crackdown on freedom of expression.

In 2015 elections, secular nationalist and populist parties loyal to the former general swept into parliament, which has since served as a rubber-stamp for el-Sissi's legislative agenda.

Shaimaa Ahmed, known by her stage name Shima, was arrested for inciting debauchery in her latest music video

Shaimaa Ahmed, known by her stage name Shima, was arrested for "inciting debauchery" in her latest music video

Ever-widening crackdown

What began as a crackdown on journalists following the ouster of Egypt's democratically-elected president, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, in 2013 has transformed into an ever-widening crackdown on arts, literature, music and academia.

On Monday, prosecutors extended the detention of 25-year-old Egyptian singer Shaimaa Ahmed after she was arrested last week on suspicions of "inciting debauchery" and "disrupting public morality" with her latest music video "A'ndy Zrouf" (Having Issues).

In the music video, Ahmed, who goes by the name artistic name Shima, is seen suggestively eating a banana in front of a class of young men. The video prompted criticism on talk shows and social media networks within Egypt's conservative circles.

Read more: 'Controversy, not artistry': How the media covert art in the Arab world

Meanwhile, police on Sunday raided a well-known publishing house in downtown Cairo and detained one volunteer, saying they discovered unregistered books on the premises, reported independent news site Mada Masr.

"There is still a steady decline in the situation of freedom of expression in Egypt, where various state institutions are involved in restricting freedom of expression and prosecuting individuals who express their views, either through the Internet or as part of their work as journalists, photographers, writers and creative artists," the Egypt-based Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression said earlier this month in its quarterly report.

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