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Egyptian president ratifies law curtailing journalists

Khaled Desouki, AFP | Al-Jazeera journalists, Canadian Mohamed Fahmy (C) and Egyptian Baher Mohamed (L), talk to media outside Cairo's Torah prison on July 30, 2015

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Sunday approved an anti-terrorism law that critics say will muzzle the media by imposing stiff fines on journalists and news organizations publishing “false” reports related to the country’s security.

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The government had initially proposed a jail sentence for offenders, but backtracked after a backlash from Egyptian media. The law nevertheless mentions the possibility of suspension from employment.

The controversial law sets a minimum fine of 200,000 pounds (about €22,500) and a maximum of 500,000 pounds for anyone who strays from government statements or publishes "false" reports on militant attacks or army operations.

Critics say the steep fines may shut down smaller newspapers, and push larger ones to self-censorship in reporting the government’s ongoing struggle against armed militants.

Egypt sped up the passage of the law after the state prosecutor was assassinated in a car bombing in late June, followed by a large-scale jihadist attack in the Sinai Peninsula days later.

The military was infuriated after media, quoting security officials, reported that dozens of troops had been killed in the Sinai attack. The military's official death toll was 21 soldiers and scores of jihadists.

Broad definition of terrorism

The law has raised fears that more journalists could be put on trial for their reporting.

Three reporters with Qatari Al-Jazeera English channel were sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for "defaming" the country and supporting the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood movement.

The ruling sparked international condemnation, and the defendants won a retrial that will conclude at the end of the month.

The law also lays out the death penalty for those convicted of leading "terrorist groups" or financing attacks.

Hundreds of Islamists have been sentenced to death in mass trials since Sisi, a former army chief, overthrew Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in July 2013.

Many of them have won retrials, and Morsi himself, sentenced to death last June, has appealed his verdict.

Meanwhile jihadists loyal to the Islamic State group have killed hundreds of soldiers and policemen in attacks mainly in Sinai, but also elsewhere in the North African country.

Though criticised by rights activists, the law has met support from Sisi's many supporters who demand a firm hand to restore stability in the country of 87 million people.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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