RSF website blocked in Egypt
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is dismayed to learn that its website is now one of more than 100 news and information sites that are blocked in Egypt. It calls on the authorities to provide an explanation and to restore access to all blocked sites without delay.
It is blocked via all Internet Services Providers, including Vodafone, Orange, Etisalat and the state-owned Tedata. By blocking the site, Egypt is joining such non-democratic countries as Iran and China, which has blocked RSF twice in the past.
RSF has tried without success to find out why it is blocked. Its staff reached officials at several governmental bodies by telephone, including the ministry of telecommunications and the Supreme Council for Media, but all professed not to know the reason for the blocking or who ordered it.
A press officer at the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA) said the NTRA was not responsible for the blocking.
“This is the first time that the RSF site has been blocked in Egypt,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “We are extremely concerned about this iniquitous measure and we expect an explanation from the authorities for why RSF.org and more than 130 other sites are now inaccessible.
“This extensive digital blackout in Egypt is not just a grave attack on freedom of information. It also indicative of a fear on the part of the regime that an informed public could pose a threat to its stability.”
Mass blocking cloaked in deafening silence
The Supreme Council for Media told RSF it would open an investigation into the blocking if RSF submitted a request for an official explanation. But RSF has learned that media outlets such Masr al arabia, Al Bedaiah and Mada Masr have submitted requests of this kind without ever obtaining an explanation.
Several blocked sites have filed complaints or have turned to the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate in an attempt to find out the reasons for the blocking and identify the entity responsible. These initiatives have also so far been unsuccessful.
The website blocking began without warning or explanation on 24 May, when several dozen were blocked. The list of blocked sites has grown steadily ever since. It is the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), an Egyptian NGO, that puts the number of sites now blocked at 135.
The targets include electronic media, the online versions of traditional media and the sites of human rights NGOs and think tanks. They also include sites offering VPN services or the Tor Browser, which enable Internet users to circumvent website blocking.
“Egypt is now in a digital black hole,” Lina Attalah said last month. Attalah is the editor of Mada Masr, an influential independent newspaper that is published in both Arabic and English.
RSF notes that its site was blocked shortly after it posted a press release condemning the fact that Mahmoud Abou Zeid, a photojournalist also known as Shawkan, had just completed four years in illegal and arbitrary detention.
Shawkan has been held ever since his arrest on 14 August 2013, while covering a demonstration in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square by supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi and the ensuing use of force by the security forces to break up the protest.
In today’s media environment, journalists are often imprisoned or subjected to judicial harassment, media outlets are censored or controlled, and new media are under the regime’s thumb. Egypt is ranked 161st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.