Freemuse and AFTE to the United Nations: Egypt should abolish prior censorship

17 March 2014

Egypt should abolish prior censorship and allow artists to organise freely. These are two of the recommendations made by Freemuse and AFTE to the Egyptian government in a joint Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submitted to the United Nations.


The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a mechanism of the Human Rights Council in the United Nations which aims at improving the human rights situation on the ground of each of the 193 United Nations member states.

“It is the first time Freemuse submits a UPR, and the submission is historic being the first ever in the UN history, which focus entirely on restrictions on artistic freedom”, said Freemuse director Ole Reitov.

In the submission The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, AFTE, and Freemuse points out that, “The regulatory regime of prior censorship created by Egyptian national legislation contains numerous bureaucratic procedures that inhibit freedom of artistic creativity and production, forcing artists to deal with complicated administrative procedures designed to ensure state control over the content of works of art. The regulations also require the censorship authorities to deny permits to any works that contravene the vaguely formulated standards of spiritual, religious, and moral values and the public order.”

The joint submission is based on a joint study on censorship legislations in Egypt, ‘Censors of Creativity’, which will be published in April 2014 at a report-cum-launch session in Cairo.

The submission offers several recommendations to the Egyptian government on the need for legislative and institutional reforms. Freemuse and AFTE propose in particular the replacement of the prior censorship apparatus by an age-based classification of artistic works, the reform of the Penal Code to bring it into conformity with international norms that employ the risk of immanent harm as a threshold for the criminalization of expression; and the repeal of Law 35/1978 on the Federation of Artistic Syndicates.

The submission concludes:

“The artistic professional syndicates, supported by the authority of national legislation in the form of Law 35/1978 on the Federation of Artistic Syndicates, also play a key role in the limitation of artistic expression in cinema, theatre, television, and music. In this regard, the state under review breaches international labour agreements and international guarantees of freedom of association and assembly.”

The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, AFTE, is an Egyptian organisation established in 2006 by a group of lawyers and researchers to defend freedom of expression by providing legal support to victims and documenting violations of freedom of expression in all its forms. Freemuse and AFTE initiated collaborations several years ago, when Freemuse established a support network for artists in the Middle East. The study was initiated in September 2013 and concluded in January 2014

The Egyptian government has now six months to respond to the submission.

» Read the Freemuse-AFTE UPR submission on Egypt: ‘Universal Periodic Review – Egypt 2014 – Stakeholder submission’


» Read more:

The Majalla – 19 March 2014:
A Canvas to Egypt’s Imagination
Egyptian artists reflect on their post-revolutionary disappointment

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