Chaired by Judge Hamdi Yasin Okasha the administrative court today in case no 1430/65 ruled that implementation of National Communication Agency decree imposing restrictions on collective mobile text messages should be stopped. The Agency’s decree had ordered companies that provide collective mobile messages to its clients should not provide such service except after obtaining permit and approval of concerned authorities. The court ruling today ordered the cancellation of all items of the decree which constitute a violation of freedom of opinion and expression as well as a violation of the right to information.
The national agency for organization of communication had issued an administrative decree demanding that companies offering collective mobile messaging services to obtain a permit before providing such service. The fees to obtain such permit were set at one million Egyptian pounds, half of which is paid as an insurance to be used for fines in case the company does not abide by the rules. Conditions to obtain the permit constitute a major violation of several rights and freedoms, including freedom of exchange of information. The decree demanded that companies not contract their clients except after approval of the content of the messages by the authorities concerned. It also demanded that companies keep records of the coordinates of its clients as well as the content of the messages for one year, and to submit them on demand to the national agency or any other body authorized by the agency or any of security authorities. In its capacity as an Egyptian human rights organization AFTE contested this decree in front of the administrative court, since the decree violates its right to share information regarding human rights violations with others through collective text messages and after the service providing companies refused to contract the organization except after obtaining permission regarding the content of the messages. Furthermore the decree does not specify the “authorities concerned” to provide such approval of the content of the messages, which would lead the respective companies to refuse clients based on certain contents for fear of breaking conditions or financial punitive measures. The decree would put clients, including human rights organizations and newspapers under the mercy of approval by “relevant authorities” and threaten their access to such permit if the content of the messages does not appeal to those authorities.
AFTE had submitted three memos to the court clarifying the non legality of the decree and its violation of several international human rights principles including article 19 of the international declaration of human rights, article 19 of the international covenant for civil and political rights, article 13 of the international covenant for economic and social rights and article 9 of the African charter for human and peoples rights, all of which are provisions that protect the right to transfer and receipt of information through all possible means as well as the principles set by the UN special rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression regarding freedom of information.
AFTE considers the court decision an important victory for freedom of exchange of information which is being systematically violated in Egypt by government authorities, whether directly through administrative decrees that block that freedom or indirectly through the lack of a legislation that organizes and protects the right to exchange of information.