The Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression strongly condemns the ruling by the disciplinary court of the State Council to dismiss director in the Egyptian television, Ali Abu-Hemila. The ruling claimed that Abu-Hemila went out of duty. The incident, which led to referring Abu-Hemila to disciplinary court dates back to 2016, when he tweeted against the Red Sea Demarcation Agreement with Saudi Arabia, by virtue of which Egypt transformed sovereignty over Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia. AFTE believes that this ruling violates the constitution and the international covenants on the protection of the right to freedom of expression -guaranteed to all citizens alike and without distinction- and on the prevention of any obstacles that restrict or impair this right.
Details of the incident
In April 2016, the Administrative Prosecution referred Ali Abu-Hemila, director of outdoors recordings in Nile Drama channel (degree/general manager) to disciplinary trial in case No. 176 of the year 58 juridical. He was charged with disciplinary offenses, for taking a course not consistent with the due respect for the job, violation of the rules and instructions and provisions of the law and going out of his duties. Abu-Hemila published and wrote statements against the President of the Republic, on his personal page on social media, attaching the image of the President and that of the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia, which the Administrative Prosecution considered an insult.
The Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Radio and Television Union filled a legal complaint to the Administrative Prosecution, accusing Abu-Hemila of publishing inappropriate statements against the political leadership related to the case of Tiran and Sanafir. This happened after some of Abu-Hemila’s colleagues printed copies of the pictures and comments, which he published on his page, and sent them to the head of the specialized channels sector, who referred them to the head of the security sector in the Egyptian TV, Major General Mohamed Abdel Gawad. The latter referred them to the President of the Union.
Public employee has the right to express his opinion
AFTE asserts that Abu-Hemila did not go beyond the limits of expressing his opinion on a public issue on his personal page on Facebook, and what he wrote has nothing to do with his job requirements. In addition, Abu-Hemila did not mention the president in any of the posts in question, and he did not even mention his position, but wrote statements against the agreement and those who concluded it.
AFTE is concerned that the Egyptian television officials are targeting those who have different viewpoints within the Egyptian National Media Authority (the former Egyptian Radio and Television Union), especially that Abu-Hemila was previously subjected to harassment and violations in his job. He was transferred from his managerial position within the National Media Authority to another non-managerial position, and there is a case in court in this regard.
Ready charge: insulting President of Republic
Abu-Hemila was charged with insulting the President of the Republic, in accordance with the decision of referral issued by the Administrative Prosecution. The article concerning this charge in the Egyptian Penal Code was amended in 2014; the penalty of imprisonment was abolished and replaced by a fine of ten thousand pounds. This means that Abu-Hemila ‘s dismissal from service is a penalty that is not commensurate with what the Disciplinary Tribunal considered to be an offense.
In this context, AFTE asserts that the Council of State and the Disciplinary Courts hear cases referred to them and impose disciplinary penalties, regardless of the nature of the act in question; whether it is a criminal offense or an administrative offense, which gives the Court broad authority to hear cases of irregularities that have occurred outside the framework of the jobs and have nothing to do with it. It should be noted here that disciplinary tribunals do not have a written code and therefore they deal according to the case law established, that is, the previous judgments of the same court in similar proceedings. That is the problem with Abu-Hemila; the whole incident was outside the framework of his job, and was not related to it, and here the court uses the judicial principles regardless of the regulations and laws governing the profession. The regulation of disciplinary penalties for employees within the National Media Authority does not contain any article that authorizes the referral of the employee to disciplinary trial because of expressing his opinion, especially the first time he commits an offense. Therefore, we find accusations such as offending public office or going out of the requirements of public office/ job duty, for which the employees in the lower grades are punished by a deduction of their salary (from three to five days), according to regulation of disciplinary penalties. All the previous demonstrates that the laws are not alone is considering that the employee is owned by the state along with his views, ideas, and personal life; the court rulings also go in the same direction, although there is a significant difference between the private life of the employee (outside the job) and the actions related to the job or the public utility.
Supreme Administrative Court must cancel Abu-Hamila’s dismissal
However, this behavior did not affect Abu-Hamila alone, on May 16, 2018; the State Council Disciplinary Court ruled that Ali Kamal, general director in Nile Life channel, should retire because he wrote posts talking about torture in police stations on his Facebook page.
AFTE calls for canceling the dismissal of Abu-Hamila when the case is heard by the Supreme Administrative Court. The association also calls for an end to the arbitrary measures against employees in national media who express critical views of the state’s public policies.