In World Press Freedom Day: Journalism is a crime in Egypt

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On May 3 of each year, the world celebrates the World Press Freedom Day, but Egypt will receive this day with more press siege and restrictions on freedoms, strangling the public and private domains, adding new journalists to the lists of detainees, increasing the number of blocked sites, toughening penalties on the media, and issuing legislation Shackled for freedoms and the press.

Amnesty International issued its statement today saying that the press in Egypt has become a crime over the past four years, as the authorities crush all opposition and anti-official voices. No voice to raise, no pencil to write and no cameras to observe; this is the current reality of Egyptian journalism

Journalists in jail

Reporters Without Borders’s latest ranking on freedom of the press in 2020 showed that Egypt fell to 166th place among the 180 countries in the Freedom of the Press Index, dropping three places from its ranking last year. The organization described Egypt as one of the largest prisons for journalists in the region. In its report, the organization documented 37 cases of detention of journalists, including 12 journalists working in state-owned media outlets for expressing differing views on social media.

Many of them have been accused of spreading false news or misuse of social media, under a broad 2015 counterterrorism law that has expanded the definition of terror to include all kinds of dissent. Another report issued by the Arab Observatory for Media Freedom said that there are 73 journalists in Egyptian prisons, including 29 journalists who have been sentenced to prison terms. Joined the list of detainees last week did two other journalists, Ahmed Allam and Muhammad Al-Ater, who were imprisoned for 15 days on the same usual charges, publishing news and false statements, and misusing social media.

The authorities are not satisfied with entering journalists to prisons, but rather are intransigent in releasing journalists who have finished their pretrial detention, as happens with Moataz Wdanan, who finished his second year in pre-trial detention on February 21, and Hassan al-Banna and Mustafa al-Asar, whose detention period ended on February 15, and No one has come out yet.

Web blocking

The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression affirmed that  the number of blocked sites in since May 2017 Egypt is 547, including 125 press sites, last one was Daaarb news website launched by the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, had been blocked last month.

Secret police raids

Security services raid several newspaper and websites in 2019, the most famous of which was the raid on the Mada Masr’s office last November after the publication of a report on the exclusion of Sisi’s son from the management of sovereign files, and the chief in editor and his assistants were taken to the police station before being released after international criticisms. The security services also raid the Anadolu website office in Cairo last December, arrested its employees and then released them.

Arbitrary dismissal

Arbitrary dismissal has become one of the recurring patterns that press institutions use to relieve themselves of the economic burdens and financial crises they are suffering from. The use of arbitrary dismissal has emerged as one of the means used by press organizations to get rid of journalists who cross “red lines”. All cases of arbitrary dismissal were accompanied by violations of the financial rights of journalists, by reducing or preventing their salaries, or by not granting dismissed journalists their financial dues. The Egyptian Observatory for Journalism and Media documented 171 violations against journalists or the institutions where they work, including 31 cases of arbitrary dismissal.

Monopoly of Media

Since General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi seized power in 2013, most of Egypt’s television programs and newspapers have taken the government position and steered clear of criticism, or else disappeared. Years ago, al-Sisi, in a television interview, revealed his anger at the media’s coverage of some current events, and clearly expressed his wish to own the media as former President Gamal Abdel Nasser did. Since this interview , Many privately-owned Egyptian news outlets have been quietly acquired by companies affiliated with the country’s intelligence service, and Most TV stations and private newspapers are now owned by only one intelligence company, “the united for media services”, which now controls all media content.

Workers for these outlets receive specific instructions via WhatsApp from intelligence officers on what to report and what to omit. The intelligence not only stopped owning the private media, but also managed to control the official state television based in the prominent Maspero building, whose administration was entrusted to United Company last January.

Restrictive legislations

The regime in Egypt sometimes tries to legalize repressive practices through some laws and legislations in order to save face against international criticism. In order to legalize control of the media, Sisi created the Supreme Council for the media Regulation to draw up the media’s policies for the country and lay the regulations and controls for journalistic and media work. These regulations stressed that it is not permissible to transfer any media content inside Egypt to a media outlet or a website operating from outside the republic unless it obtains a license to do so from the Supreme Council. The regulation also states that it is not permissible to record or photograph any meetings in public places for the purpose of presenting them to the media except after a statement from the Supreme Council is issued.

Newspapers are obliged to print their publications in licensed printers in Egypt, and register with the Supreme Council. With regard to websites, the regulation stipulated that there must be a copy of the servers hosting the site inside Egypt, that it to be known to the council and that it can only be changed with the council’s approval. The last decision of the council was to fine Al-Masry Al-Youm, one of the most prominent daily newspapers in the country, EGP 250,000 (about $16,000), and refer its editor-in-chief to a disciplinary, after the newspaper published a series of articles by the businessman Salah Diab, on the development of the Sinai Peninsula.