Egypt still hounding reporters one year after “national human rights strategy” launch
The Egyptian government’s systematic persecution of journalists has not let up since it launched its “national strategy for human rights” one year ago, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Though eight journalists have been freed in the past six months – the latest of whom was let go on 14 September - 22 others remain behind bars. Unless they toe the government line, journalists continue to be subjected to judicial harassment.
“The number of imprisoned journalists confirms that the national strategy for human rights has absolutely no interest in improving the situation of Egypt’s press freedoms,” RSF’s Middle East desk said. “Eight journalists have been released, but these individual pardons do not address the deep-rooted structural problems that continue to obstruct journalists’ work and safety.
One year after President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi boasted the launch of a “national strategy for human rights” on TV on 11 September 2021, Egypt remains one of the world’s biggest prisons for journalists. Three of the 22 currently detained were arrested after Sissi’s announcement.
The “strategy” was dismissed from the outset by human rights groups as nothing more than a PR ploy devised by the foreign ministry with the aim of persuading foreign governments to help fund the struggling Egyptian economy.
The government has undertaken no press freedom reforms, and a climate of fear continues to prevail among journalists. When authorities do free some journalists, it is only to make room for others. Since Sisi’s announcement, three journalists have been arrested and placed in pre-trial detention on charges linked to their work. They are Safaa Al Korbiji (held since April 20), Hala Fahmy (held since April 24) and Mohammad Fawze Masaad (held since May 15).
Alaa Abdel Fattah, the famed blogger has been jailed since 29 September 2019 on charges of “membership of a terrorist group,” “spreading false information” and “misuse of social media,” and whose detention keeps on being extended. He escalated his hunger strike on April 2 and risks to die in prison.
At least six other journalists have been temporarily detained and interrogated by the police since 11 September 2021. The latest were Lina Atallah, the editor of the newspaper Mada Masr, and three of her reporters – Rana Mamdouh, Sara Seif Eddin and Beesan Kassab. Arrested on September 7, they were released on bail after being charged with “operating a website without a licence” – a charge that could lead to judicial proceedings.
At least 13 of the 22 imprisoned journalists are being held pending trial. They include Mohamed Said Fahmi, Abdel Nasser Salama, Hamdy Al-Zaeem, Bahaa Ed-Din Ibrahim, and Mustafa Al-Khateeb.
On August 29, a criminal court extended the detention of Rabie El-Sheikh, an Al Jazeera journalist, and Tawfiq Ghanem, the former editor of Islam Online and Anadolu, who has been held since May 21, 2021 on charges of “spreading false news” and “membership of a prohibited organisation.”
Continuing structural problems
The arrests, imprisonments and judicial proceedings show that the “strategy” has not addressed the Egyptian media landscape’s structural problems. Media pluralism is still non-existent and most media remain under the government control that was imposed in a process dubbed by RSF as the “Sissification of the media.”
More than 500 news and information websites are meanwhile inaccessible in Egypt, including RSF’s. And, as well as being subjected to judicial harassment, independent journalists are also often the victims of smear campaigns waged by media puppets loyal to the government.