Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression

Expelling Abul Naga and Waked from the Egyptian actors’ union is a violation of freedom of expression

The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) condemns the recent decisions by the artistic unions to cancel and suspend the memberships of its members for political and moral reasons. AFTE considers such practices a violation of the freedom of expression and the members’ rights, which contradicts the law, deviates the unions from the roles assigned to them, and makes the artistic unions an instrument of authority to punish opponents. The actors union had revoked the memberships of Khaled Abul Naga and Amr Waked, during a meeting of the union’s board on 26 March. The union said in a statement issued on Wednesday that the two members’ actions are tantamount to “high treason” of the homeland and the Egyptian people. It added that the two actors unilaterally spoke to “external powers” to back the “agendas of conspirators” aiming to “undermine Egypt’s security and stability.”

The union’s decision came after Amr Waked and Khaled Abul Naga attended a congressional briefing which discussed the human rights situation in Egypt. The decision is also driven by the actors’ positions against the constitutional amendments and the ruling regime.

In a similar context, the musicians’ union suspended “Sherine Abdel Wahab” from work and decided to refer her to investigation because of her statements on the freedom of expression in Egypt, which she made during a concert in Bahrain. The union’s board headed by Hani Shaker considered Sherine’s statements to be detrimental to national security. Shaker also revoked the memberships of Dalia Mustafa Mohamed, known as “Lamis”, and Fatema Mohammed Gaber, known as Fifi, and decided to ban them from practicing the profession. According to the union’s decision, the reason was the violation of the two singers of the “general traditions and decent appearance, and appearing in a manner inciting debauchery”.

Decisions violating the law

The decisions by the two unions contradicted act no. 35 of 1978 on the establishment of trade unions, as disciplinary decisions were taken against members without an internal investigation into the charges. This is a violation of the procedural rules that oblige all administrative bodies to take the necessary investigation procedures before signing any penalty.

The same law stipulates in section 6 the duties of the members and the disciplinary procedures against them. Articles 63 and 64 oblige the unions to form of a committee to carry out the investigation before any penalty is issued against the member of the union. The articles also require the formation of a disciplinary committee consisting of five members, and the artist has the right to choose one of the members of the committee.

The law also requires that the member be informed of the date of the investigation, and he also has the right to bring a lawyer and witnesses, while guaranteeing the right to appeal against the decisions of the committee before an appeals’ board with more experienced members. Finally, the member has the right to challenge the decision before the administrative court.

The decisions of dismissal also contradict article 12 of law no. 35, which specified cases of revocation of the membership of individuals, which did not include any of the incidents under investigation.

AFTE considers that the recent decisions of the trade unions are in line with the discourse of the authority against the opponents, which was evident in the statement of the actors’ union that lacked any measures to ensure the protection of the artist’s security and personal safety. It did not take into account the scope of work and responsibility of the union, as the statement used instigation language and terms. The union described Abul Naga and Waked more than once of being traitors, which may endanger their security and personal safety.

The administrative court explained in the reasons for its decision to abolish the judicial police for the members of the actors’ union -which was obtained by AFTE- the roles assigned to the artistic unions, and limited their roles to protecting members, encouraging them and collecting fees without forcing them to join the union, so that any citizen has the right to practice art without censorship. The court later referred the law of artistic trade unions to the constitutional court to repeal article 5, which compels artists to join the union.

Thus, the unions of actors and musicians are giving up their role of protecting and representing the members and their interests and providing a climate that nurtures, supports and develops creativity. On the contrary the unions violate the constitution, the law and the provisions of the judiciary described above, impose penalties on members in incidents outside the scope of their competences, and interfere with members’ affiliations and personal and political freedom.

AFTE calls on the unions of actors and musicians to stop these punitive practices, to abolish the revoking of memberships’ decisions and the disciplinary sanctions against members.  The trade unions must adhere to their roles of protecting the rights of the members and their interests, as well as respecting the provisions of the constitution and not taking measures contrary to article 67, so that the trade unions are not turned to a rival.

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