On World Press Freedom Day, the Egyptian government should release imprisoned journalists and settle this issue completely

Date : Wednesday, 3 May, 2023

This year, 2023, marks the 30th year of World Press Freedom Day. Celebrated every 3rd of May, this year’s Day coincides with a tangible activity in the press and media scene in Egypt, which reached its climax with the movement’s success that advocates the independence of the Journalists Syndicate in achieving a significant victory in the syndicate’s midterm elections. This came after journalist Khaled El-Balshy was elected as head of the syndicate and the Independence Movement won most seats of the union’s board. The election was held in a competitive atmosphere amid media marginalization of Balshy in the face of what might be called the “government’s candidate”, journalist Khaled Meri.

This was considered by many observers as a victory for the profession and press freedom, and a defeat for all government attempts to control and domesticate the union over the past years.

This year, World Press Freedom Day also coincides with the launch of the national dialogue, which the President of the Republic called for nearly a year ago with the aim of resuming the postponed political reform process, as the President put it. The issue of press and media freedom issue will occupy a significant part of the national dialogue sessions.

The authorities have recently unblocked the “Darb” website of the Popular Alliance Party, three years after it was blocked by a decision from an unknown party. The website’s editor-in-chief is Balshy.

The authorities have also released two journalists recently, namely Hisham Abdel Aziz of Al-Jazeera TV network, who was held in pretrial detention from 20 June 2019 until 30 April 2023, and Raouf Ebeid of Rose Al-Youssef newspaper, who was arrested in July 2022. Thus, the number of journalists released in 2023 has so far totaled four.

However, this does not necessarily reflect the entire media scene in Egypt which is still suffering greatly, specifically in terms of arresting journalists, blocking news websites, filing complaints against journalists working for those websites, issuing harsh prison sentences against journalists, and issuing gag orders in certain cases.

While writing these lines, the news was received of the arrest of journalist Hassan Al-Qabbani at 6 am this morning, without details of the reasons for his arrest, hours before the start of the opening sessions of the national dialogue and after his release two years ago.

Thus, violations against freedom of the press and media continued this year at a rate that may be less quantitatively than previous rates, but it is qualitatively different in terms of the gravity and crudeness of violations. This year, AFTE documented nearly 7 cases in which journalists were arrested for practicing their journalistic work, in addition to a number of violations that included the targeting of independent news websites and referring journalists to trial.

In the same context, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation continues to violate the right to freedom of expression and freedom of information, making unsubstantiated claims in this regard. Moreover, it does not reveal the list of blocked websites or the reasons for blocking them.

This year, the pace of crackdown on independent news websites increased. Three journalists from the Mada Masr website were referred to the Mansoura Economic Court after members of the Nation’s Future Party filed hundreds of complaints against them. This came after the website published a report about changes in the party’s leadership positions over corruption allegations.

The Egyptian authorities also blocked three URL links of the Al-Manassa website within approximately 72 hours, starting from 14 July 2022. This came after the website published articles written by some opposition journalists and politicians. The editorial board of the “Daraj” website revealed that the site was blocked in Egypt on 23 November 2022 without prior notice, thus taking the number of websites blocked by the authorities to 129, something which exacerbates the violation of the right to media freedom and the right of citizens to know, access information and use the internet, all of which are protected by Articles 57, 65, 68, and 71 of the Egyptian constitution.

The Egyptian press is facing a stifling and extremely dangerous environment with regard to the security, safety and freedom of journalists and media workers. Egypt ranked 168th in the Reporters Without Borders 2022 index of press freedom out of 180 countries included in the index.

So, AFTE stresses the need to promote press freedom, provide protection for journalists, and provide a legal environment that guarantees freedom of their work. It calls on the Egyptian authorities to stop using pretrial detention as a tool to punish journalists who deviate from the official narrative or criticize the government policies.

AFTE reiterates the UN Secretary-General’s call for governments (especially the Egyptian government) to promote press freedom, provide protection for journalists, and provide a legal environment that guarantees freedom of their work.

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