June 30, 2016 - Updated on July 1, 2016

Journalists constantly threatened in Egypt

As Egypt celebrates the election of one of its diplomats to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) points out that the current Egyptian government has been a disaster for the country’s media and journalists.

“This country has become an expert in persecuting journalists, who are given long jail terms when they are not sentenced to death or life imprisonment,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “It has become one of the world’s biggest prisons for media personnel.”

Egyptian diplomat Ahmed Fathallah’s election to the Human Rights Committee on 23 June has prompted expressions of national pride. Foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said it demonstrated the “international community’s confidence” in Egypt and sent a strong message to sceptics who criticize the human rights situation.

Reporters Without Borders nonetheless points out that media freedom is violated on an almost daily basis in Egypt, where the government uses national security and stability as grounds for its constant attacks on media pluralism and independence.

Journalists sentenced to death in political trial

Three journalists, including two former Al-Jazeera employees, were sentenced to death in absentia by a Cairo court on 18 June for allegedly spying for Qatar. The six other defendants in the trial, who include former President Mohamed Morsi, were also all sentenced to death. The journalists are alleged to have served as intermediaries in passing documents “concerning national security” to Qatar. The court’s verdict can be appealed.

The Al-Jazeera journalists are Ibrahim Helal, the Qatari broadcaster’s former news director, who has been a journalist for 25 years, and Alaa Omar Mohammed Sablan, a Jordanian. The third journalist is Asmaa Al-Khatib, the former editor in chief of the Islamist website Rassd. RSF has not been able to establish that Khatib’s journalistic activities were the reason for the decision to prosecute her.

RSF is appalled by the imposition of death sentences on journalists and hopes that these convictions are overturned on appeal. Condemning the trial, Al-Jazeera said it constituted a grave and unprecedented attack on journalism and freedom of expression in the world.

Al-Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Bahr Mohamed and Peter Greste were sentenced to three years in prison in August 2015, when tried for the second time on charges of supporting a terrorist organization and disseminating false information. Greste (an Australian citizen) was expelled after more than a year in prison. President Sisi pardoned the other two in September 2015.

Foreign journalist expelled

RSF also condemns the humiliating expulsion of Liliane Daoud, a journalist with British and Lebanese dual nationality, on 27 June. Daoud, who worked for the privately-owned Egyptian TV channel ONTV and used to work for the BBC in London, was arrested at her home in the Cairo district of Zamalel and was summarily deported on the grounds that her papers were not in order.

Her ONTV contract had terminated just hours before her arrest. Criticizing her arrest on Facebook, ex-husband Khaled alBerry said the authorities did not let her contact her lawyer or her embassy or even take personal items with her. Egyptian media outlets quoted her lawyer as saying his client wanted to return to Egypt.

The host of a current affairs programme called “Al Sora Al Kamela” (The Full Picture) since 2001, Daoud had been the target of a major campaign on social networks by people who thought she was too critical of the regime and too sympathetic to the opposition. Her programme was suspended in May shortly after ONTV was taken over by Ahmed Abou Hashima, a businessman who supports the Sisi regime.

Rémy Pigaglio, a Cairo-based French journalist who worked for French media outlets La Croix and RTL, was denied entry to Egypt on his return from a vacation in France in late May. No reason was given.

The situation of journalists is becoming more and more precarious in Egypt, now the world’s fourth biggest prison for media personnel, after China, Eritrea and Iran. Egypt is ranked 159th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.