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Freedom of information threatened in Egypt: Watchdog

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) watchdog condemns arbitrary arrests and military trials of journalists in Egypt

Ahram Online, Tuesday 5 Nov 2013
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Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef during his episode on 25 October, 2013 (Photo courtesy of Youssef's official Facebook page)
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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Tuesday in a statement that freedom of information was "threatened" in Egypt, after several journalists have faced military trials, arbitrary arrests and abusive treatment in detention.

“Hauling journalists before military courts constitutes a danger to basic freedoms, as do prison terms, even if these are suspended," RSF said. "These practices must stop, and journalists still jailed as a result of their professional activities must be freed immediately and unconditionally.”

The NGO said such methods reflect "a continuation of practices in effect since 2011," adding that "the successive governments in place since the fall of Hosni Mubarak...  have all been determined to repress the media and control information."

It also underlined that these practices violate decisions made by Egypt's constituent assembly, tasked with amending the 2012-Islamist-backed Fundamental Law, which has recently prohibited the detention of journalists because of their work.

Last week, the 50-member committee approved constitutional articles that ban the detention of journalists over published material. It also determined that newspapers would be created with notification only, without requesting official authorisation, and outlawed any kind of media censorship out of war times.

In the last few months, several journalists have been condemned by military courts for filming army installations or publishing information that contradicts the state's official discourse.

Sunday, Ismailia military court slammed photojournalist Mohammed Sabry with a six-month suspended sentence for filming military installations in the restive Sinai Peninsula. Sabry was arrested in January by Egyptian border guards in the city of Rafah for filming military installations near the border with the Palestinian Gaza Strip. He was later released on bail.

Earlier in October, award-winning journalist Ahmed Abu-Draa received a similar sentence for endangering national security by spreading false information in his coverage of military operations against Islamic militants in Sinai.

RSF also raised the case of Hatem Abou El-Nour, a journalist for the Egyptian daily newspaper El-Watan, who was sentenced on 30 October to one year of prison by a Cairo military court for impersonating a member of the military during phone interviews.

The NGO reported the case of Islam Fathi, a correspondent for the MBC Masr network, who was tortured and beaten repeatedly by police, including officers. Fathi was arrested in Minya, 245km south of Cairo, on 21 October after an altercation with a police officer who prohibited him from filming, even though he had showed his journalist credentials.

It regretted the suspension of political satirist Bassem Youssef's television show, after his latest episode stirred controversy for mocking the popular fervour in support of the army. “Freedom of satirically critical expression, especially in the context of a humour program, must have a place in a country that aspires to democracy,” RSF said.

After an almost three-month hiatus, Youssef's show returned to television on October 25. However, El-Bernameg was suspended by host channel CBC minutes before the second episode of season three was due to screen on Friday.

The channel announced in a statement read by TV anchor Khairy Ramadan that it had decided to suspend the show after a review of the episode revealed that Youssef and the production company had violated CBC's "editorial policies."

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