United States - President Obama urged to raise freedom of expression in his Cairo speech

    MONTREAL, June 3 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders
secretary-general Jean-François Julliard wrote last week to US President
Barack Obama about the frequent violations of free expression in Egypt, where
Obama is due to arrive later today and deliver a major speech tomorrow on the
US relationship with the Arab world.
    Noting that "you have often indicated that your presidency will be marked
by a commitment to human rights," the 29 May letter urges him to raise the
issue of press freedom during his stay in Cairo.
    The letter pointed out that in Egypt a total of 32 articles in different
laws - including the criminal code, the press law, the publications law, the
law on state documents (which forbids journalists to access certain official
documents), the civil service law and the political parties law - stipulate
penalties for the media. And when a press case comes before the courts, the
authorities are allowed to choose the judge who tries it.
    An average of one lawsuit affecting free expression is brought before
Egypt's courts every day - lawsuits against newspapers, journalists, websites
and bloggers, the letter said. It cited the example of blogger Kareem Amer,
who was sentenced to four years in prison on 22 February 2007 on charges of
"inciting hatred of Islam" and "insulting" President Hosni Mubarak in his
blog. He also criticized Egypt's leading religious institutions such as the
Sunni university of Al-Azhar, where he studied law.
    "We therefore feel that you cannot visit Egypt without mentioning the
need to repeal the state of emergency, free Kareem Amer, decriminalise press
offences and withdraw the Internet regulation bill," the letter said. "We
recall that on 1 May, you voiced your support and admiration for 'all those
brave men and women of the press who labour to expose truth and enhance
accountability around the world'."
    The letter added: "As we said in our 17 February letter to you, the
consistency and credibility of US foreign policy will depend on your
administration's ability to demonstrate the same vigilance in relations with
your partners and allies."
    Egypt is ranked 146th out of 173 countries in the latest Reporters
Without Borders press freedom index. Egypt's minister of communications and
information technology, Tarek Mohamed Kamel, was recently added to the
Reporters Without Borders list of "Predators of Press Freedom" because of the
measures taken by his ministry to restrict online free expression.

For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, Executive Director,
Reporters Without Borders Canada, (514) 521-4111, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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