Egypt government to meet on disputed anti-terror law

The country has been fighting a jihadist insurgency in Sinai since the army overthrew Islamist president Mohammed Mursi in 2013

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Egypt’s government will meet on Wednesday to discuss a controversial draft anti-terrorism law under which reporters could be jailed for contradicting official statements, cabinet officials said.

The government last week approved the law, which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi must ratify, but a senior judiciary council asked for changes to a provision that would set up anti-terrorism courts.

The draft law has come under attack from the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate and political parties over a particularly controversial article that restricts press freedoms.

The article stipulates a minimum two-year prison sentence for anyone who reports details of militant attacks that contradict official statements.

Justice Minister Ahmed al-Zind has told AFP that the measure is in response to coverage of a jihadist attack on soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula.

The military said 21 soldiers were killed in the attack, after foreign and local media reported much higher figures given by security sources.

The attacks came two days after state prosecutor Hisham Barakat was killed in a car bombing in Cairo, prompting Sisi to demand tougher laws and faster trials for alleged militants.

A government official told AFP on Wednesday that the meeting would consider revisions to the law “with the goal of defending national security and prioritising the nation’s interests”.

The mass circulation private daily Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that the government was leaning towards amending the article because of the spreading backlash.

Dia Rashwan, the former head of the Journalists Syndicate, told AFP he had proposed to the cabinet fines instead of prison sentences for offenders.

His proposal would require courts to prove intent and malice in publishing “false” news on militant attacks, he said.

“People I have spoken to on many levels (in the government) have expressed a willingness in resolving the matter,” he said.

Government officials would not confirm whether they intended to change the provision.

The country has been fighting a jihadist insurgency in Sinai since the army, then led by Sisi, overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

The attacks have killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers, while more than 1,400 people, mostly Morsi supporters, have been killed in a crackdown on protests.

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