Sun, Mar 04, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Egyptian media warned against dissent

AFP, CAIRO

Media in Egypt are facing increased scrutiny and restrictions by authorities ahead of presidential elections to be held from March 26 to March 28, which Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi is expected to dominate, critics say.

Al-Sisi, addressing media, on Thursday warned against “defamation” of security forces, a day after his prosecution said that it would take legal action against “false news.”

The government’s warnings to media are not new.

Al-Sisi, a former army chief elected as president in 2014, has previously asked the media to exercise caution in criticizing officials.

However, in recent months, authorities have blocked about 500 Web sites, including media outlets such as al-Jazeera and the local online newspaper Mada Masr, while journalists have been arrested.

A reporter for the Huffington Post’s Arabic Web site was last month detained after publishing an interview with prominent dissident Hisham Geneina, who mentioned the existence of documents that are damaging to senior state officials.

At least 29 journalists are in detention, including some accused of working for media affiliated with the banned brotherhood, RSF said.

Some of the restrictions are unprecedented.

“Egypt has never seen an [Internet] blockage since the start of the Internet,” said Mohamed Taher, a researcher at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression in Egypt.

Authorities in 2011 did cut off the Internet for a day as they tried to stifle an uprising that ousted former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, but did not seek to permanently ban scores of Web sites.

The government has not confirmed or denied its role in the blackout, but Taher said that Internet providers do not block Web sites without a request from authorities.

For some outlets, the measure has affected their operations.

Web site Masr al-Arabia has had to reduce staff by 60 percent, Web site editor Adel Sabry said, adding that “many sources refuse to speak to a blocked Web site.”

The government has also increased criticism of foreign media, which have been frequent targets of attacks by politicians over the years. It often accuses foreign journalists of biased coverage of the nation, especially when it comes to human rights abuses.

The Egyptian State Information Service last week called for an official boycott of the BBC, after a report on abuses in which a woman claimed that her daughter had been forcibly disappeared by security. The daughter later appeared in an interview on a local television station, saying that she had run away, married and had a child.

The report appears to have prompted the public prosecutor to say that its lawyers would take action against outlets that publish “false news” and “news and rumors that harm public safety.”

Much of the domestic media is seen as generally pliant and criticism of al-Sisi is rare.

“There is no direct instruction or censorship, but [journalists] censor themselves” out of fear or opportunism, a journalist who works for a large private channel said on condition of anonymity.

Rights campaigners have said that authorities have become more restrictive in general, showing little tolerance for dissent.

In the run-up to the poll, al-Sisi’s would-be rivals have been sidelined or have withdrawn from the race, saying that it would not be a fair election.

One contender, former Egyptian chief of the general staff of the armed forces Lieutenant General Sami Hafez Anan, was detained shortly after announcing his candidacy.

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