Imposing Silence: How Egypt faced freedom of expression in 2021

The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) monitored the plan of General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s regime to “impose silence” on Egyptians, with “systematic violations” against freedom of opinion and thought in Egypt during the first quarter of 2021.

AFTE documented dozens of violations against citizens, journalists, the media, academics, and creative people, due to expressing their views in Egypt, which amounted to pretrial detention, rotation, and referral to the Public Prosecution Office and investigation.

Violations against freedom of expression did not stop at their usual level. There have been new types of violations aimed at imposing further restrictions on individuals’ exercise of their right to express their views by various means. During these months, the Egyptian authorities continued to tighten the screws on the electronic space and its users, particularly as it is the last outlet for free expression among the public.

The report reveals that journalists are still being arrested because of their opinions despite releasing some of them. Four journalists were arrested after the release of three others. At the same time, 38 violations of freedom of expression were monitored, including four violations due to publishing opinions about the corona epidemic.

The decline in the rate of violations related to targeting citizens or journalists for expressing their opinions or publishing information related to the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic in Egypt cannot be explained by a change in the government’s security policy over criticism of its policies. This decline is due to self-censorship that citizens practiced after the security attack on citizens and medical staff who expressed their views. This is the government’s mechanism over crisis, even if that crisis is related to their lives and threatens public health. Citizens have been arrested for expressing their views on social media. There is the continued use of pretrial detention and re-detaining in new cases with the same charges against human rights defenders, politicians, and journalists.

The report also monitored citizens’ arrest in police custody after checking their phones and searching their social media accounts for evidence they were criticising the government. In March 311 countries signed a joint statement calling on the Egyptian government to stop prosecuting human rights defenders, journalists, and political activists, under the guise of the anti-terrorism law. It demanded to ensure a space for civil society and journalists to work without fear and intimidation. The states also called on the Egyptian authorities to lift the blocking of independent press websites and stop the excessive use of pretrial detention.

The statement of the UN member states on the human rights situation in Egypt carried harsh criticism of the Egyptian government’s performance over human rights. The Egyptian government reacted quickly to the statement of the member states of the United Nations, describing international criticism as “allegations and allegations” that were based on inaccurate reports and information. Despite the total denial with which the Egyptian authorities dealt with the criticisms directed at them through the statement of the member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council, AFTE called on the Egyptian authorities to stop the systematic violations against human rights, especially the right to freedom of thought and expression. It also called for political measures, legislative amendments, and a major change in the government’s practices.

AFTE stressed that it was critically important that the Egyptian government changes its approach concerning making information available in an accessible and easily accessible manner to the public, especially information related to the health risks they face. The foundation considers that there is an urgent necessity and an urgent need to abolish the Information Technology Crimes Law, given its widespread use in the prosecution and restriction of individuals’ freedom to express their opinions through various cyberspace platforms. Some of its articles also violate the provisions of the Egyptian constitution.