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Jail sentences, arrests and harassment all used to restrict media freedom in Egypt

Face of control: Egyptian policemen stand guard outside a polling station in Cairo on December 5, 2010 as Egypt holds second-round runoffs in a parliamentary election that the ruling party is poised to win almost unopposed in the face of an opposition boycott.

Paris-based press freedom group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) has condemned the six-month jail sentence that a military court imposed on blogger Ahmed Hassan Basiouny on November 29 on charges of disseminating defence secrets online and “disclosing information relating to the Egyptian armed forces.”

Basiouny was arrested for creating a Facebook page in 2009 that provided advice and information for young people thinking of enlisting in the Egyptian army.

The authorities meanwhile deployed an entire arsenal of measures and practices designed to silence dissent and reinforce their control over the media before the first round of the parliamentary elections held on November 28, despite the government’s declared intention to organize a free and transparent election.

Mostafa Bahgat, a reporter for the daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, was arrested while covering a demonstration in the Giza district of Imbaba (southwest of the centre of Cairo) on November 27, the eve of the election, and was held for several hours at Giza police headquarters. It would seem the authorities have not forgotten the video he filmed of police violence against opposition activists and journalists after the 2005 parliamentary elections. Fourteen people died in those clashes.

Youssef Shaaban, the Alexandria correspondent of the online newspaper Al-Badil who was arrested on November 20, was finally released on November29, too late for him to cover the first round. The office of the assistant prosecutor issued an order for his immediate release on November 26 but the police waiting 48 hours before executing it.

A journalist who defends human rights and is often critical of local and national politicians, Shaaban had been placed under a 15-day detention order by the prosecutor general four days after his arrest while covering a demonstration.

Ashraf Khalil, a reporter for Al-Masry Al-Youm’s English-language edition, was intercepted by police on November 22 after interviewing Mohammed Beltagui, a Muslim Brotherhood candidate for reelection as parliamentary representative of Shubra Al-Kheima, a district to the north of Cairo. He and a woman journalist were stopped and questioned as they left the district in a taxi.

There has been a legal challenge to the measures introduced by the communication ministry on October 11 with the aim of controlling SMS messaging. Under the new measures, companies that send large amounts of SMS messages to mobile phones are now supposed to obtain a licence from the Telecommunications Regulation Authority. Other SMS content suppliers including political parties and news services must do the same. The licences can cost up to 88,000 dollars (65,670 euros).

An administrative court issued a ruling quashing these measures shortly before the first round of the elections. However, court orders overturning government measures are not usually implemented in Egypt. With just days to go to second round on 5 December, the communication ministry announced that it wanted to obtain a copy of the court ruling before making any changes to the conditions for obtaining a licence. As a result, the measures introduced in October are still in effect.

The government’s repressive policies have also been impacting on the Internet. RSF regretted that the trial of the two presumed killers of Khaled Said, an online activist who was beaten to death outside an Internet café in June, has been postponed until December 25. It turns out that the two alleged killers are “informers” in the pay of the police. So far they have been charged not with murder but with making an unjustified arrest and use of excessive violence.

A Khaled Said support page on Facebook called “We are all Khaled Said,” which has 330,000 members, and a Facebook page supporting opposition candidate Mohamed ElBaradei suddenly disappeared on November 26. They were finally reinstated after complaints from users. Facebook attributed their removal to security system software.

Date posted: December 5, 2010 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 97