Freedom of the Press 2008 - Egypt
|Publication Date||29 April 2008|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom of the Press 2008 - Egypt, 29 April 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4871f600c.html [accessed 21 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 21 (of 30)
Political Environment: 20 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 18 (of 30)
Total Score: 59 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)
Status change explanation: Egypt's status improved from Not Free to Partly Free in recognition of the courage of Egyptian journalists to cross "red lines" that previously restricted their work, and in recognition of the greater range of viewpoints represented in the Egyptian media and blogosphere. This progress occurred in spite of the government's ongoing – and in some cases, increasing – harassment, repression, and imprisonment of journalists.
While Egyptian journalists succeeded in expanding the diversity of media coverage by pushing back the "red lines" that previously restricted their work, press freedom continued to suffer due to the government's repressive laws and the extralegal intimidation of journalists. The Emergency Law, the Press Law, and other provisions of the penal code circumscribe the press, despite constitutional guarantees of press freedom. Even after the 2006 amendments to the Press Law, publication of "false news," criticism of the president and foreign leaders, and publishing material that constitutes "an attack against the dignity and honor of individuals" or an "outrage of the reputation of families" remain criminal offenses opportunistically prosecuted by the authorities. Fines can range from LE 5,000 to LE 20,000 ($900-$3600) for press infractions and up to five years imprisonment for criticizing a foreign head of state or the president.
A series of high-profile legal cases against independent and opposition journalists over the course of the year served to threaten and penalize the media for taking journalistic and editorial risks. In January, security officers detained Al-Jazeera journalist Huwaida Taha Mitwalli, who also writes for the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi, charged her with "possessing and giving false pictures about the internal situation in Egypt that could undermine the dignity of the country" and confiscated her videotapes and computer in connection with a documentary she was making about torture in Egypt. On May 2, a Cairo criminal court sentenced her to six months in prison for spreading false news that could "harm the national interest" and fined her LE 20,000 ($3,600) for "possessing TV tapes, with the aim of distributing and broadcasting them, which included events contrary to reality about torture in Egypt, and which are likely to damage the reputation of the country abroad." At the year's end, she was free, pending appeal. In September, a State Security prosecutor brought charges against Ibrahim Eissa, editor of the feisty, independent daily Al-Dustur, for publishing reports about President Hosni Mubarak's health "that were likely to harm the public interest". In a separate case in September, a Cairo court sentenced Eissa and three other editors, 'Adil Hamuda (Al-Fagr), Wael al-Ibrashi (Sawt al-Umma), and 'Abd al-Halim Qandil (Al-Karama), to one year in prison and imposed an LE 20,000 ($3,500) fine for publishing "with malicious intent, false news, statements or rumors likely to disturb public order" based on their criticism of President Hosni Mubarak's stance on Hezbollah and for criticizing senior members of the ruling National Democratic Party, including the president's son, Gamal. Also in September, a court sentenced three editors – Anwar al-Hawari, Mahmoud Ghalab, and Amir Salem – of the opposition Wafd party's eponymous newspaper to two years in prison for publishing false news "liable to disturb public security, spread horror among the people, or cause harm or damage the public interest." At year's end, they were free pending appeal.
While there are more than 500 newspapers, magazines, journals, and other periodicals in Egypt, this apparent diversity disguises the government's role as a media owner and sponsor. The government is a partial owner of Egypt's three largest newspapers, whose editors are appointed by the president. In recent years, the Shura Council – one-third of whose members are appointed by the president – has granted licenses to opposition parties and private investors to publish newspapers. The Ministry of Information controls the content of state-owned broadcast media, and privately owned domestic broadcasters are not allowed to air news bulletins, focusing instead on music and entertainment. Nevertheless, a new crop of independent newspapers and political talk shows breach topics that would have been unthinkable five years ago. The government did not block foreign satellite channels and permitted the establishment of locally based private satellite television stations.
Thanks in large part to government efforts to aggressively promote internet use, the number of Egyptians with access to the Internet has more than quadrupled over the past several years, and an estimated 10 percent of the population used the Internet in 2007. The government does not engage in widespread online censorship, but occasionally blocks Islamist and secular opposition websites. In February, Alexandrian blogger Abd al-Karim Nabil Sulaiman, better known by his pen name Karim Amer, became the first Egyptian blogger to be imprisoned for his writings. He is currently serving a four-year prison sentence for "insulting Islam" and "insulting the president." In April, security agents detained Abd al-Moneim Mahmud, a blogger and journalist for the London-based Al-Hiwar satellite television station, as he was boarding a plane for Sudan to work on a documentary about human rights in the Arab world. According to Abd al-Moneim's lawyers, Egypt's domestic intelligence service cited his criticism of torture in Egypt on his blog, at conferences in Doha and Cairo, and in conversations with the press and international human rights groups, as justifications for his arrest. He was jailed for several weeks on charges of arming students against the government before a prosecutor dropped the charges as groundless.