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New wave of attacks on freedom of information

November 6, 2013

With the trial of former president Mohamed Morsi and major leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood under way on 4 November, Egyptian media workers are targets of attack. Freedom of information is threatened. Measures include military trials, arbitrary arrests, and abusive treatment in detention as Egyptian authorities maintain their campaign of repression.

This policy reflects a continuation of practices in effect since 2011. The successive governments in place since the fall of Hosni Mubarak - the Supreme Council of the armed forces, the Muslim Brotherhood, and today’s transition regime led by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – have all been determined to repress the media and control information.

“This new wave of threats to freedom of information in Egypt is especially disturbing,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Arbitrary arrests and hauling journalists before military courts constitute a danger to basic freedoms, as do prison terms, even if these are suspended. These practices must stop, and journalists still jailed because of their professional activities must be freed immediately and unconditionally.”

The repressive campaign against freedom of information violates decisions made by the committee in charge of drafting the new Egyptian constitution, notably a provision that would prohibit the detention of media professionals because of what they publish.

Journalists tried in military courts

Hatem Abou el-Nour a journalist for Al-Watan, an Egyptian daily, was sentenced on 30 October to one year of prison by the Cairo military court. Arrested on 24 August, he is accused of impersonating a member of the military during telephone interviews with organizations not linked to the army in order to obtain information for his articles.

Freelance journalist Mohamed Sabry was sentenced on 3 November to a suspended term of six months in prison by a military court in Ismailia. He had been arrested on 4 January while taking photos in the Rafah military zone in northern Sinai. He was reporting on a military prohibition on land purchases in the border area. The trial of the journalist, who was free during the proceedings, was reported on extensively since shortly after his arrest.

Similarly, Ahmad Abu Deraa, a correspondent for the Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, was sentenced on October to a suspended sentence of six months, and a fine of 200 Egyptian pounds ($30) by the Ismailia military court. The journalist, who had extensively covered army activity in Sinai, was arrested by security services on 4 September in the northern Sinai city of al-Arish and detained while awaiting sentencing.

Arrests and abusive treatment

Islam Fathi, a correspondent for the MBC Masr network was arrested in al-Minya, 245 km south of Cairo, on 21 October. The arrest followed an altercation with a police officer who prohibited him from filming, even though he had showed his journalist credential. Held in the city police station, he was tortured and beaten repeatedly by police, including officers. They accused him of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. Fathi was freed the next day, after charges of attacking a police officer were dropped. His injuries required treatment at Minya University Hospital.

Mostafa Diab, correspondent for Al-Madar in Ismailia, was arrested on the afternoon of 27 October while covering a demonstration by students from Suez Canal University. He was released 48 hours later. He reportedly was detained for having filmed the demonstration without a permit.

Complaints against Bassem Youssef, and suspension of his program

Complaints were filed against comedian Bassem Youssef, host of “Al-Barnameg”, on the CBC network, following a broadcast on 26 October in which he was critical both of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the new regime, and mocked the popular fervour in support of the army. Some viewers accused him of inciting chaos, threatening national security and insulting the army

Several days later, CBC distanced itself from the comedian’s point of view, then suspended the 1 November broadcast, just before the second episode of the season was due to air. The official justification was that he had broken some clauses of his contract.

“Complaints against comedian Bassem Youssef and the suspension of his show are especially regrettable,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Freedom of satirically critical expression, especially in the context of a humor program, must have a place in a country that aspires to democracy.”

For more information contact:
Reporters without Borders
Phone: +33 1 44 83 84 84

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