Reporters Without Borders has condemned a ruling by an administrative court attached to Egypt's council of state upholding an information and communication ministry decision in mid June 2006 that the authorities can block, suspend or shut down any website liable to pose a threat to national security.

The judge who issued the ruling, Farouq Abdul-Qader, even urged parliament to pass a law to this effect as soon as possible.

"Empowering government officials to shut down a website on their own initiative is unacceptable," Reporters Without Borders said. "We hold that only a judge should be able take this kind of action. The council of state ruling could set a dangerous judicial precedent. This complicity between courts and government bodes ill for online free expression in Egypt and we would oppose any law endorsing the judge's decision."

No existing law says a government department may demand that an Internet company block, suspend or close down a website. Al-Methaq Al-Araby posted essays that were very critical of the government, especially corrupt officials.

Judge Abdul-Qader ruled that the authorities should "do their duty" when they think national security is threatened. He ordered Al-Methaq Al-Araby's immediate closure and asked parliamentarians to adopt a law that would give officials a free hand to close any website they deem to be dangerous.

Meanwhile two bloggers, Mohamed Sharkawy and Karim El-Shaer, are currently detained in Egypt (see IFEX alerts of 23 and 16 June, 31 and 26 May 2006). A third, Alaa Abd El-Fatah, the co-author of Manal and Alaa's Bit Bucket ( ), was released on 22 June after being held for 45 days (see alerts of 23 June and 10 May 2006).

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