Sisi’s Egypt: The punishment of thinking is imprisonment

Violations of the regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi against freedom of thought and expression remain and continue, as it did not suffice him to control the political life, and to curb the gains of the January 25th revolution that strengthened freedom of expression, public debate and political accountability. It also passed legislations that violate the freedom of media and digital rights in an unprecedented manner. During the year 2019, it targeted all forms of free expression and the groups that interact most in public debate, such as journalists, social media users, university professors, and political activists. In its annual report for 2019, issued a few days ago, the Association for the Freedom of Thought and Expression, a legal institution concerned with the promotion and protection of freedom of thought, expression and academic and students freedoms in Egypt, monitored dozens of violations by the Sisi regime to consolidate its control over the public domain and eliminate every voice that opposes it.

Freedom of the media in the news in the past tense

The year 2019 witnessed the continuation of the Egyptian government’s pursue of anti-press and media freedom policies and practices. On the level of media ownership, the year witnessed the continuation of monopolistic policies in the press and media market, where the United Media Services Company, which owns the Egyptian Media Group, and which is jointly owned by the General Intelligence Service, was able to complete a number of acquisition deals of media companies, production companies, and advertising agencies. The Egyptian Media Group is the main tool used by security agencies to tighten control of media ownership, which has resulted in the control of ONTV, CBC and Al-Hayat networks. In addition to direct control of ownership, the Egyptian Media Group operates the Nile Radio Network, which is owned by the National Media Authority, and has signed a protocol with the National Media Authority to set a plan to develop the state-owned television.

In terms of direct violations against the press group, the Association for the Freedom of Thought and Expression monitored not less than 48 incidents, in which 59 different violations have occurred during the year 2019. Among the most prominent violations reported was when security forces arrested journalists Muhammad Musbah Jibril and Abdel Rahman Awad Abd al-Salam for conducting an interview with the former parliamentarian and head of the Reform and Development Party, Muhammad Anwar al-Sadat. The two journalists were imprisoned and the State Security Prosecution charged them with: joining a terrorist group while being aware of its purposes, using an account on the World Wide Web for a terrorist purpose, and deliberately spreading false news to promote a terrorist purpose. Last September, police forces arrested CBC photojournalist Islam Mosaddaq from his home, and the authorities denied that they had him. On October 1st, the State Security Prosecution ordered the detention of Mosaddaq for case No. 488 of 2019 State Security, without informing any of his relatives or the presence of a lawyer. The prosecution charged him with participating in a terrorist group while knowing its objectives, spreading false news, and using an account on social media to spread rumors. Also, journalists working for Al-Mashhad newspaper were denied coverage of the referendum on some articles of the constitution, which aimed at allowing President Sisi to remain in power until 2030, based on a decision of the National Election Commission who did not mention its reasons.

Various media outlets were also prevented from covering the vote counting processes from within the committees, where the spokesman of the National Media Authority announced that the various media outlets would not cover the counting processes within the sub-committees as was followed in all elections and referendums that were organized after January 2011. The Authority stated during a press conference that the media does not have the right to broadcast the referendum numbers, and the only party entrusted with announcing the results of the referendum in accordance with the law is the National Elections Authority. Violations continued on the legal level as well, as the Supreme Media Council issued, on March 18th, 2019, a list of sanctions and measures that may be imposed on the press and media. In most of its articles, the “Sanctions List” lacked the principle of proportionality between the violations committed and the penalties prescribed for them. Deterrent penalties were imposed for example, on actions that a journalist or media figure would normally practice during his daily work. The list also contained generic and obscure vocabulary and texts, and gave the President of the Council exceptional powers to impose

144 people imprisoned for expressing their opinion on the Internet

During the year 2019, the Association for the Freedom of Thought and Expression monitored 69 incidents, in which 144 people were punished with pretrial detention, detention and investigation for expressing their views on social media, whether by writing or publishing videos, and sometimes because of their demonstrations in the streets or even for whistling from their home. Despite so, the prosecution charged them all with misusing social media and spreading false news. Among those most prominent incidents was the arrest of a citizen, Amir Muhammad Amin Issa, from in front of a school in Qalioub area in Qalioubiya governorate, while take pictures of violations committed in front of the referendum committee on amending the constitution. On the same day, Ahmad Badawi Abd al-Majid was arrested in the Fifth Settlement for raising a banner calling on citizens to vote to reject constitutional amendments. The Supreme State Security Prosecution charged both Issa and Abd al-Majid with accusations of joining a terrorist group and using an account on social media to commit a legally punished crime that threatens the security and safety of the society.

The Egyptian authorities continued their practice of blocking websites, which began in May 2017, as the Foundation monitored 40 websites that were blocked. They varied between sites for instant messaging applications, and journalistic, political and social sites, thus increasing the number of blocked websites in Egypt to 546 sites. In one week in April, the authorities blocked 7 domains of the Batil campaign that was aimed at collecting signatures from citizens against constitutional amendments. Throughout that week, whenever the campaign launched a new domain, the authorities blocked it hours after its launch. 13 instant messaging apps were blocked in September, including popular application sites like Signal and Wire. This was on the few days prior to September 28th when contractor and actor Muhammad Ali called for demonstrations in various squares on this day against President Sisi.