Human Rights Watch criticizes recent government actions targeting independent journalists and newspapers in Egypt.

The letter charges that the pattern of censorship, banning of newspapers, and criminal prosecution of journalists thus far in 1998 has created a formidable atmosphere of intimidation for the media, and calls on President Mubarak to reverse the sharp deterioration in freedom of the press
Three Egyptian journalists are currently behind bars, serving prison terms imposed by the courts, and dozens of others face the prospect of imprisonment if judges find them guilty of penal code violations.

"Journalists should be permitted to work freely, and publishers should be allowed to operate without state harassment or the threat of imprisonment," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch. "The criminal prosecution of journalists for what they have written or what their newspapers have published should be stopped, and the journalists now in prison should be released."

Human Rights Watch also expressed concern about changes in the companies law in January that transferred the authority to license new newspapers from the Higher Press Council to the council of ministers. It said that the power to license the press should be vested in an agency that is independent of direct interference by the executive branch of government and effectively insulated from all forms of political pressure.

The full text of the letter is available here