Media watchdog website gets blocked in Egypt, along with 135 others
Reporters Without Borders is now blocked.
By Leyal Khalife
In a continued crackdown on journalists and the press, Egypt has added Reporters Without Borders (RSF) – an international media watchdog – to its list of blocked websites.
The media watchdog is all about ‘freedom of the press’ and defending journalists’ right to freedom of information, comment, and criticism … Except it seems as though users in Egypt have been excluded from this right.
RSF’s website has been blocked since Aug. 14 and has since called on Egyptian authorities to explain the reasons behind the block.
The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression – an Egyptian watchdog – said that at least 135 other websites have been blocked in Egypt since May.
The blockade against media started in May with websites that are “critical of the government and the so-called VPN sites that help users bypass the block,” according to The Washington Post.
Crackdown on websites in Egypt
In May, Egypt blocked 21 websites, including Huffington Post Arabi and Qatar-based Al Jazeera, for “supporting terrorism” and “publishing lies.”
This came soon after the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia took similar measures, banning Al Jazeera and other Qatari news sources.
Two security sources told Reuters that the outlets were blocked for either having ties with the Sunni Islamist organization, Muslim Brotherhood, or for being funded by Qatar.
Reuters attempted to access five websites named by local Egyptian media, including the Al Jazeera website and Mada Masr, and found them all to be inaccessible.
Reuters also found that the Huffington Post’s Arabic website was blocked, but the international website was still accessible. Al Sharq, Masr Al Arabia, Arabic 21, Horria Post, and Klmty have all been barred, according to Egyptian Streets.
“One of the world’s biggest prisons for journalists,” as RSF once described Egypt
Earlier this year, a Press Freedom report revealed that the Middle East and North Africa is the world’s worst region for press freedom.
The report investigated freedom of media and journalists in 180 countries and found that “democracies, as well as dictatorships, had increasingly clamped down on press freedom.”
Following the release of the report, RSF described Egypt as “one of the world’s biggest prisons for journalists” coming in at No. 161 in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index ranking.
The Egyptian government’s crackdown on reporters, political activists, and social reformers has drawn condemnation from international human rights organizations and western governments.
Writers, especially journalists, have been at the forefront of the crackdown.
In 2016, 40 armed members of the National Security agency attacked journalists at the Press Syndicate, the first time since it was established in 1941.
Amnesty International called it “the most brazen attack on the media” in Egypt in decades.
In 2015, a CPJ conducted census found that Egyptian authorities were holding at least 19 journalists behind bars for their work.
This is the highest number in the country since the CPJ began recording data on imprisoned journalists in 1990, and the third highest of any country in the world.
The 2014 Egyptian constitution protects “freedom of expression”
Egypt’s constitution, drafted in 2014, explicitly guarantees freedom of artistic and literary creation, freedom of thought and opinion, and freedom of the press.
Article 67 forbids the jailing of artists and writers for publishing their work.
“Every person shall have the right to express his/her opinion verbally, in writing, through imagery, or by any other means of expression and publication,” the constitution states.
However, many have gone against the constitution with the enforcement of other laws, including Article 178 of the penal code, which criminalizes content that violates public morals.
The case of prominent Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji is one example.
In 2016, Naji was convicted for his “sexually explicit” work in his novel Istikhdam al-Hayah (The Use of Life).
He was put on trial after excerpts from his novel referencing sex and drug use appeared in the state-owned newspaper Akhbar Al-Adab in 2014.
Soon after, 65-year-old Egyptian citizen Hani Saleh Tawfik filed a complaint claiming the content “made his blood pressure drop and his heartbeat fluctuate.”
Naji was initially sentenced to two years in prison and received a $1,200 fine.
The newspaper’s editor, Tarek al-Taher, was also ordered to pay a fine worth 10,000 Egyptian pounds for publishing the article.
Initially, Naji was acquitted. But following an appeal of the verdict, he received the sentence in a retrial.
After spending a bit over 10 months behind bars, Naji was eventually released.