Egypt responded to massive jihadist attacks in Sinai last week by hurriedly passing a far-reaching anti-terror law, but the local journalists' union warns that the measure will tip the scales even further toward totalitarianism in the state's crackdown on freedom of the press.
The Egyptian Journalists' Syndicate warns that the law allows the state to jail journalists who publish news contradicting the official state sanctioned version of events, reports CNN on Monday. Egypt has already been criticized for arresting international journalists and detaining them for extended periods.
Sentences – including death sentences – are proscribed by the new law for over a dozen accusations. The bill just needs President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's approval, as he holds legislative powers given the dissolution of the Egyptian parliament.
"The hands of swift justice are chained by the law," Sisi said last Tuesday during Barakat's funeral.
On example of instances in which the state would likely crack down on the media came in a July 1 terrorist attack on military outposts in Sinai near the Gaza border, in which 17 soldiers and over 200 terrorists died, according to the military. Several local and international media sites placed the casualties among the Egyptian army between 50 and 70, angering the government.
"Dangerous and unconstitutional"
Responding to the new law, the Journalists' Syndicate warned it "transcends the main goal of the law of combating terrorism to appropriating freedom of the press."
A draft of the law indicates a jail sentence of no less than two years for "publishing false news or statements about terrorist operations in contradiction to official statements."
The Syndicate warned four other articles of the law are also "dangerous and unconstitutional," arguing that the bill, "appropriates the right of the journalist to acquire information from different sources and limits it to one side. This is a clear setback for the freedom of thought and press."
No less than 18 journalists are jailed in Egypt according to the June figures of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), marking the highest number in Egypt's history according to CPJ.
"The threat of imprisonment in Egypt is part of an atmosphere in which authorities pressure media outlets to censor critical voices," CPJ said.
"Authorities don't want journalists to reach Egyptians, but want to control all information and be the only source of information," Khaled El-Balshy, the head of the freedoms committee at the Journalists' Syndicate, told CNN.
Fourteen Egyptian rights groups also spoke out against the law, saying in a joint statement last week that "more attacks on civil and political rights and freedoms by security institutions won't be a successful solution in the face of all these (terrorist) threats."