Egypt’s Diminishing Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Media

Egypt has undergone a change in its approach to human rights. The current president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, came to power after the previous president, Mohamed Morsi, was removed from office in 2013 by the Egyptian military. This new president does not try to hide his critical view of human rights. Since al-Sisi came into power, his government has jailed tens of thousands of political opponents and taken steps to criminalize the work of human rights organizations and cripple independent civil society groups. The new government is continuously increasing repression until the basic freedoms of the people are almost nonexistent.

This map shows where journalists are imprisoned; as the colors darken the number of journalist prisoners increase. In 2015 there were approximately 11-25 journalists imprisoned in Egypt. As indicated by this map, Egypt is one of the worst countries in regards to arbitrarily arresting its citizens.Picture 1

Rights groups have documented the crackdown on freedom of the media in Egypt since Morsi’s overthrow in 2013. After the military took over the country the state closed news organizations and arrested a growing number of journalists. In 2016 Egypt’s prisoner count increased from the previous year. In 2016 a court sentenced three journalists to three years in prison, which sends a dangerous message in Egypt today. This ruling shows that journalists can be locked up just for doing their job: telling the truth and reporting news to the public. It also shows that there are judges in Egypt who permit their courtrooms to become instrumental in the increasing repression of politics and propaganda. The number of journalists imprisoned in 2016 is the highest it has ever been since 1990.

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From July 2013 – January 2014 there were a total of 3,143 deaths in Egypt. An Interior Ministry official reported in July 2014 that authorities arrested 22,000 people over the last year, but the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights claimed the number of people arrested was closer to 41,000. At least 90 of those arrested in Cairo and Giza died from inhumane conditions – lack of reasonable health care and torture – in the first 11 months of 2014. The majority of these deaths resulted from protests where civilians and authorities clashed. The police have used a new law, Law 107, which is heavily repressive on the Right to Public Meetings, Processions ad Peaceful Demonstrations to arrest political activists because they didn’t seek advanced permission to do so from authorities. Under the international human rights law, the Egyptian government has the right to regulate how a public space is used for demonstrations by requiring reasonable advance notification. This does not mean, however, that if the organizers of the demonstration fail to give advance notification, they should be subjected to criminal sanctions that would result in fines or jail time. The Egyptian government has made it clear that it will not stand for dissent through the numerous attacks on civil rights groups and the arrests and prosecutions of group leaders. Almost three years after nationwide protests that brought down Hosni Mubarak, security agencies feel more empowered than ever and are still focused on crushing the rights of Egyptian citizens to protest their government’s actions.

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Since Mohamed Morsi was overthrown, there have been 60 or more journalists assaulted, 70 journalists arrested, 11 journalists imprisoned and 7 journalists killed. These statistics only make up a portion of the total number of prisoners today. Sometimes there are signs of President al-Sisi softening his stance on freedom of expression and freedom of the press; but for every positive decision he makes, there is an opposite reaction.

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The Egyptian Social Solidarity Ministry made a public announcement saying all non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) must register with the government or else their operations in Egypt would be considered illegal. By have the NGO’s register with them, the government gains power to freeze their assets and shut them down if they feel it necessary. This new policy takes away these organizations’ independence and ability to remain critical. The government then amended Article 78 of Egypt’s penal code, which allowed them to punish any groups – NGO’s included – who accept foreign aid to carry out acts that went against the interest of the state with life imprisonment. Considering how the new Egyptian government increasingly interprets any criticisms as attacking the country, it’s clear the amended Article 78 may be used against human rights groups, civil society activists, etc.

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