Reporters Without Borders said today it had recorded numerous cases of deliberate obstruction of journalists trying to cover the second round of legislative elections on 5 December, just as it had in the first round on 28 November.
The landslide victory of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) was no longer in doubt after massive fraud during the first round, condemned unanimously by observers in Egypt. Tension levels were slightly down, however, a large number of journalists were attacked by NDP militants and the security forces in the course of polling day. A fresh upsurge in tension and censorship may well be on the cards during the coming months in the run-up to the presidential election, due at the end of 2011.
Information ministry targets satellite channels
Nilesat on 3 December suspended al-Fraen TV for two weeks for “violation of the media code of ethics and rules of covering elections”, based on a decision by the Media Free Zone administration, in Sixth of October City. In the same way, the director of the electoral high commission, Sayed Abdul-Aziz Omar, sent the top prosecutor a complaint from the information minister, Anas al-Fekki, against the channel for violating the principles of election coverage.
The information ministry also conveyed a complaint to the electoral high commission against the pan-Arab channel al-Hurra, on the basis of the same allegations. The complaint was also referred to the chief prosecutor, but no suspension was ordered.
Journalists charged with defamation
The top prosecutor, Abdul-Meguid Mahmoud, on 5 December sent two journalists from the independent daily al-Shorouq for trial before the criminal court charged with “insulting and defaming an official in the exercise of his duty”, after it carried an interview the previous day with NDP candidate Momena Kamel, just elected to the al-Badrashin constituency in the Guizeh governorate. During the interview, journalist Hisham el-Meyani questioned her about statements made by the Justice Minister to the electoral high commission relating to fraud cases in the constituency where she had just won her seat. The deputy told the journalist it was absurd before she condemned him as “madman, liar, psychologically unstable and reckless", and that “intellectually he belonged to the Muslim Brothers”. The same day the deputy complained about the journalist to his editor in chief, Amr Khafagy.
The following day, the two journalists and the deputy were questioned by the top prosecutor. Momena Kamel was interviewed very briefly while the two journalists were questioned for nearly six hours. They were both charged and released on bail of 20,000 Egyptian pounds (2,600 euros). The first date for their hearing has been set for 18 December 2010. They face from six months to three years in prison and a fine of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (1,300 euros).
Journalists attacked by NPD militants and security forces
Ayman Ibrahim, journalist on the government-run magazine al-Idhaa wa al-Tilfaza was beaten up by “baltaguis” (thugs), recruited by the independent candidate Mahmoud Mosleh, when he took photos of them in the act of committing fraud at a polling station at a boys’ middle school in the city of Zefta in the governorate of al-Gharbiyah, in the delta region north of Cairo. They threw themselves on Ibrahim when they saw he had taken shots of them, raining blows on him and ripping his clothes. The journalist said that his possessions and equipment were stolen. He laid a complaint at Zefta police station. His possessions were returned to him, minus his money, and the photos he had taken had been deleted from his camera.
A journalist on the same weekly, Omar Aammar, was covering voting at a polling station at al-Rashad school in the al-Matareya district, east of Cairo was struck by a police officer when he refused his order to leave the polling station. Aammar tried but failed to lay a complaint at the district police station.
Video journalist Ahmed Abdul-Fattah of the daily al-Masry al-Youm was brutally beaten by NDP militants and “baltaguis” in their pay, in Qabreet village, in Fowa city, in the governorate of Kafr-el-Sheikh, north of Cairo. All his equipment was stolen and he was left lying on the ground covered in bruises.
His colleague, Omar al-Sheikh, correspondent for al-Masry al-Youm in Beni Swaif governorate south of Cairo, was covering voting at a polling station in Baroot primary school when he was attacked by militant supporters of the NDP candidate Abdul-Khair Abdul-‘Alem.
Journalists and representatives of civil society organisations were refused entry to the Abou Leila primary school in the city of Atmida, in the governorate of Daqahleya, in the delta region north of Cairo. Police refused to accept the validity of their accreditation from the electoral high commission, telling them that only those issued by the police station in the constituency were valid. The photographer for the daily al-Masry al-Youm, Hossam al-Hawary, tried to get in without permission and was immediately attacked by NDP supporters and “baltaguis” who threatened to stab him to death.
A team from the independent weekly al-Youm al-Sabe’ was attacked at the same spot by “baltaguis” and NDP supporters. Journalist Mohamed Haggag was forced into the polling station at knife-point. He was held there and manhandled for half an hour before being released. Ahmed Ismail, a photojournalist for the same media was beaten by the same individuals outside the building. Sherif al-Deeb, also a reporter for al-Youm al-Sabe’, was threatened by NDP supporters, “baltaguis” and security staff. They were all finally expelled from the city by force.
Journalists were prevented from covering clashes that broke out between supporters of Essam Abdul Razeq and Mohamed al-Halawany, both NDP candidates for the constituency in Kafr Saqr, in the governorate or al-Sharqiyah, 85 kilometres east of Cairo. A correspondent for the daily al-Youm al-Sabe’, Iman Mechanna, was assaulted because she took photos of the incident.
Police refused to allow journalists to enter polling stations in Shoubra el-Kheima in the governorate of al-Qalyubiya, in Cairo’s northern suburbs, despite showing their accreditation, arguing that for security reasons, only voters were allowed access.
Gamal Abu Eliou, a reporter for the independent weekly al-Karama, was prevented throughout the day on 5 December from covering elections in polling stations in Armant in the governorate of Luxor, south of Cairo.
Security forces on 5 December banned a demonstration planned by the April 6 Movement in Tahrir Square, Cairo to protect against massive electoral fraud and to urge voters to boycott the second round of polling. All gatherings were banned for fear of demonstrators organising, including at bus stations and the entrance to shops.
The website of the Muslim Brothers (Ikhwan Online) was inaccessible from within Egypt from 8am to 7pm and then again until midnight, on 5 December. The same censorship was applied to the Brothers’ online forum al-Moltaqa (http://www.ikhwan.net/forum/).
Seven other websites were also censored for 24 hours:
http://shababelikhwan.net/ib/index.php (accessible in a few parts of the country)
http://www.sharkiaonline.com/ (accessible in a few parts of the country)
http://www.nowabikhwan.com/ (accessible in a few parts of the country)
The authorities, particularly the Information and Decision Support Center (IDSC) that comes under the council of ministers, were behind the blocking of these sites in collaboration with the country’s internet services providers (TEDATA, ETISALAT and LINK DSL).