Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) filed the lawsuit no. 1430 or the 65th judicial year today before the Court of Administrative Justice (Investment Conflicts Department). This lawsuit is filed against the President of the Administrative Board of the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, and the Minister of Communications and Information Technology demanding that they stay the execution of and cancel the decision of the first defendant requiring companies providing collective SMS services to acquire an authorization from administrative bodies, which implies that these SMSs would be checked by a number of censors appointed specifically for this purpose.
The National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority issued the said decision on Monday, 11 October 2010, eliciting a wide controversy among those who provide this service to the public, especially press institutions like Al-Masry Al-Youm, among others. These institutions saw it as a threat to the free circulation of information, and freedom of thought and expression. In order to inquire about the conditions for using this service, AFTE conducted a phone call yesterday with one of the intermediary companies (MNS) that provide this service for media and journalism institutions and others. The representative of the said company made clear that the institution may use this service on the conditions that it is not used to send any political messages, and that there is a contract to be contract between the intermediary company and the institution demanding the service. In case of violation of this condition, the serviceis immediately stopped following checking of the messages.
The pleading presented to the court stated that the decision of the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority is not based on a sound reason, and represents an abuse of the power granted by Law no. 10 for the year 2003 for the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. The said law, in spite of constitutional doubts regarding it, does not grant the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority the power to impose new fees, to oblige intermediary companies to receive a permission from administrative bodies, or to check messages sent through this service.
AFTE’s capacity and legal interest in this case is based on the fact that it is a civil law firm established according to Law of the Legal Profession no. 17 for the year 1983 modified by law no. 197 for the year 2008. AFTE works on uncovering violations of human rights, especially freedom of thought and expression. This includes exposing security violence against university students, restriction of the free circulation of information, etc. Thereby, the contested decision represents a restriction on its right to use the means of collective SMSs to spread information and news related to its work.
Finally, AFTE asserts that the current trend towards imposing more restrictions on the free circulation of information, the sources of information, and access to information became a systematic policy, especially that important political events (parliamentary and presidential elections). It is important to open the door of freedom in anticipation of these democratic processes rather than closing them.