Reporters Without Borders hails the decision taken by the administrative court of Egypt’s state council on 29 December not to block access to 51 websites which judge Abdel Fattah Murad, the head of the Alexandria court, had accused of defaming and attacking the president.
“This is good news for online free expression in Egypt,” the press freedom organisation said. “The real reason Murad wanted to block these sites was their reference to the charge of ‘intellectual dishonesty’ made against him last February. This ruling raises our hopes about respect for free speech on the Egyptian Internet and we would like to think that similar ones will follow, for example, in the case of Kareem Amer, a young blogger who has been imprisoned for criticising the president and others.”
A total of 21 sites, including Baheyya and Gharbeia, two popular blogs, and the site of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, were initially accused of attacking the president by Judge Murad on 11 March, after allegations circulated on the blogosphere that a book by the judge on the Internet’s legal challenges had been plagiarised. The judge subsequently added another 30 websites to his complaint.
The administrative court ruled that the sites were just content hosts and, as such, not responsible for the comments that might be posted on them. Judge Ahmed Hassaan, the head of the administrative court, refused to block the sites and denied that they had violated the constitution, as Murad had claimed.
The ruling has been hailed as “historic” by the Egyptian blogosphere. Gamal Eid, the head of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, said he was “delighted” by the decision. It presaged a “return to normal” for the Egyptian Internet and recognised “the right of Egyptian citizens to have access to a free network,” he said.
Egypt is one of the world’s most repressive countries as regards online activity. Two bloggers were arrested in 2007, including Kareem Amer, who was sentenced to four years in prison on charges of insulting President Hosni Mubarak and inciting hatred of Islam in comments criticising the government’s authoritarian and religious excesses.