Launch of task force of 81 lawyers dedicated to defend journalists
Protest outside Journalists Sydnicate against Shawkan's detention, March 2015, REUTERS
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CAIRO: A network of 81 Egyptian lawyers tasked with defending journalists and bloggers subjected to violations while doing their job plans to launch Sunday, Dec.27.

With the lawyers covering many governorates, reaching out journalists in need of legal assistance is hoped to be much easier and faster through the network, according to interviews conducted by The Cairo Post Thursday.

The Egyptian Network of Lawyers for the Defense of Journalists and Bloggers has been previously replicated in some 48 countries under the auspices of the London-based Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI.)

The network’s branch in Egypt is the outcome of a partnership between MLDI and the Egyptian Center for Public Political Studies (ECPPS.)

There are currently 23 journalists in Egyptian prisons, making the country the second worst jailer of journalists in 2015, according to the latest report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ.)

Luciana Antonio, a researcher responsible for the network’s program, referred to “several detentions and assaults of journalists that have taken place since 2013,” as an indicator to the worsening press climate in Egypt, especially that “the numbers are rather increasing, not declining.”

“The situation is very worrying… now is the right time for such an initiative,” she told The Cairo Post.

The work of the network is based on defending journalists who face, for example, assaults during coverage, arbitrary procedures from work owners, charges related to publishing crimes and political accusations due to their presence as journalists in the field, explained Antonio, who is a member of ECPPS.

The 81 lawyers have been selected according to their responses to questions about their belief and interest in freedom of opinion and expression cases, she added.

“The network is an opportunity to engage with lawyers upon whom we lean in our cases,” Khaled el-Balshy, head of liberties committee at the Press Syndicate, said in a video posted by ECPPS.

Balshy referred to the importance of lawyers’ role amid the presence of laws curbing the work of journalists, adding “there are at least seven laws…and several broad legal articles in the criminal act that are affecting journalists…ending with the anti-terrorism law.”

Taher Abu el-Nasr, a human rights lawyer, has trained the network’s lawyers on how “to provide legal assistance in various cases and charges drawn against reporters, as well as to deal with laws and constitutional provisions affecting their work,” he told The Cairo Post.

Nasr serves as defense counsel of the prominent political activist and blogger Alaa Abdel Fatah, who is currently serving five-year prison term due to violating the 2013 Protest Law.

Abdel Fatah’s name, along with many others, has been documented in CPJ’s last report, which described the press status in Egypt as “rapidly deteriorating” than in any other country.

Many of the documented cases are facing charges not related to their published work, and were only accused due to their presence at the events as journalists.

Photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, also known as Shawkan, has been languishing in prison for over two years despite his case is yet to be considered before court in February. Shawkan was arrested while covering the 2013 dispersal of Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in, and facing charges of murdering and affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood group, all have been described by his lawyers as “trumped up.”

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