معنية برصد انتهاكات حقوق التعبير في حق الأفراد و المؤسسات.

“Oppression with a Taste of Emergency” Report on Freedom of Expression in 2018

Introduction

 

This report aims to address the situation of freedom of expression in 2018, a year of intensive political developments by President Sisi, on two levels; first, ensuring that there are no rivals in the presidential election of April 2018, and then winning a second term;the second was to prepare for an amendment to the constitution allowing the extension of the presidential term.

This suffocating political context included major attacks on freedom of expression, as the state sought to suppress any voice opposed to its authoritarian aspirations. The government has extended the emergency law for the whole year, which was reflected on two aspects. The first is the practice. The trial of citizens before exceptional judiciary (the military judiciary and the state security courts and prosecutors) has increased. The second aspect is legislation. It has full control over the expression of opinion in the press and the Internet. The Parliament issued three laws aimed at organizing of media, namely the Supreme Council of Information and Media Regulation Law, the National Press Agency Law and the National Media Authority. It also issued a law against the crimes of information technology, known in the media as the cybercrime law, which aimed at legalizing its earlier practices of blocking websites and surveillance of communication.

These laws, along with other executive decisions (to be mentioned in the body of the report), are implicated in the spirit of emergency in terms of their disregard of the fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution and international covenants.

This report is divided into two main parts. The first deals with the status of legislation in Egypt during 2018. We begin with the main features and then present the four laws relating to the press and the Internet as living examples of the state’s legislation during 2018.

The second part of the report reviews the violations that the Foundation has been monitoring during 2018 in its various fields of work: freedom of expression, freedom of information, freedom of creativity, digital rights, student rights and academic freedom. This section also includes a special section for exceptional judiciary, due to the significant expansion of its use.

 

Chapter I

Emergency state legislations

 

2018 did not differ much from the years that preceded it with respect to the violation of fundamental rights and the restriction on public freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, international covenants and treaties. However, this year has been marked by the fact that it is all under the Emergency Law. The state of emergency was imposed in the second quarter of 2017 and the government, in coordination with the parliament, has been renewing it until now. This exceptional situation, or which was supposed to be exceptional, was not only reflected in the arbitrary practices inherent in such laws, but also reflected heavily on the state of legislation in Egypt. The laws were enacted in the spirit of emergency, laws that do not regulate rights, but aim to obstruct and restrict them, depriving them of any content.

In this part of the report, we review the main features of the state of legislation in Egypt in 2018. We also present a number of laws that have been adopted and which reflecton the current situation.

 

Disintegrating social contract

 

Since his assumption of the post of President of the Republic, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has criticized the provisions of the Egyptian Constitution issued in 2014,

describing it as the Constitution of Good Intentions[1], and despite the diligence of some public figures who participated in the drafting of the Constitution, to the heads of parties and jurists who tried to identify the president’s objections to the provisions, they failed to obtain any results. However, there is a general consensus is that the executive authority aspires to amend the constitution.

Prior to the last presidential elections held in the first quarter of 2018, the constitutional amendment was put forward. The proposal focused on the extension of the president’s mandate and constitutional powers. The discussion was reopened through the statements of some MPs and some journalists and media professionals close to the authority.

Apart from support campaigns or rejections of amendments to the articles relating to the President’s term, our most important concern is the rights and freedoms section of the Constitution, which was effectively suspended as the state of emergency was introduced in the second quarter of 2017. The legislator violated the constitution’s main provisions relating to the right to organize, the freedom of the media, the press and digital rights, as well as a reluctance in issuing laws that enact constitutional provisions

A careful reading of the laws issued and follow-up to the law enforcement authorities reveal that the disruption of the chapter on rights and freedoms in the Egyptian Constitution has become commonplace, and those parties do not find it objectionable to ignore its provisions or consider them with contempt or misinterpretation. The Egyptian parliament has not yet completed issuing a number of laws that complement the constitution[2]. The law of freedom of access and circulation of information provided for in Article 68 of the Constitution is at the top of these laws. Although a committee has been formed by the Supreme Council for media regulation to draft a proposal of the law, and despite the committee’s declaration that it has concluded the draft by the end of 2017 – a committee member had announced that the draft is with the cabinet and ready to be discussed in parliament – until the end of 2018 Parliament did not discuss the draft law nor did any of its committees included its discussion on its legislative agenda.

In mid-2018, the Egyptian Parliament passed the Media and Press Regulation Law, and ratified it in August of this year. The provisions of the law are very inconsistent with the provisions of the Egyptian Constitution that regulate media freedom, especially Articles 70 and 71. The law enforces the authority of the council in imposing clear censorship on the content and authorities in the issuance of licenses for websites and newspapers. It has loose and vague powers to impose penalties on the press sites, private accounts and private websites contrary to the provisions of the Constitution mentioned above, foremost the right to ownership and issuance of newspapers and creation of audio and visual media outlets, and prohibition of censorship on newspapers and Egyptian media, nor their confiscation, suspension or closure.

Also the Law on Combating Information Technology Crimes, known as “cybercrime”, was issued, introducing major amendments that altered established procedural concepts. It included vague definitions, the elaboration of which was referred to the executive regulations of the law, which has not yet been issued. The law legalizes the practices of website blocking, comprehensive and collective surveillance, the authority to access and keep user data, in addition to wide ill-defined authorities through which they can access and monitor the activities of users, and block sites and links for reasons of national security, in violation of the umbrella of constitutional protection provided for in Article 57 of the Egyptian Constitution, which stipulates the inviolability of private life, the inadmissibility of disabling, stopping or depriving citizens of it, arbitrarily.

The law also prohibits the right of citizens to free travel granted by the provisions of Article 62 of the Constitution when the Law on Combating Information Technology Crimes regulated the prohibition on travel under Article 9, which gave the Attorney General and the investigating authorities the right to prevent the defendant from traveling abroad or to put his name on checklists for a specific reason and a specific duration, linking the text to this administrative procedure to be applied when necessary, or when there is sufficient evidence of the seriousness of the charge of committing or attempting to commit any of the crimes provided for in this law, leaving the Public Prosecution with this broad and discretionary authority to assess the necessity. The Egyptian Parliament will also discuss comprehensive amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure, which will reach the amendment of over 200 articles, including the amendment and addition of Article 155, which gives the Attorney General and the investigating judge the power to issue a travel ban or to put a name on watch lists In cases of felony and misdemeanour punishable by a year of imprisonment provided that there is sufficient evidence of the seriousness of the accusation and if dictated by the necessity of the investigations, and to ensure the implementation of the penalties that may be imposed for a specified period or periods not exceeding a total of two years.

As for the right to organize and peaceful assembly, which is subject to various forms of protection, Article 73 of the constitution protects the right of citizens to organize public meetings, processions and demonstrations and all forms of peaceful protests[3], it was completely emptied of its content by the law of organization of public meetings and processions and peaceful demonstrations, and eliminated all manifestations of the full enjoyment of that right. The enforcement of this law sent a number of activists to prisons with penalties for up to five years.

As for the right to form associations, article 75 of the constitution granted associations the legal personality by mere notification and granted freedom of activity and prohibited interference by administrative bodies or their dissolution except by a court decision. However, the Egyptian legislator issued the civil association law, which was passed by a number of MPs without being discussed by any of the sectors concerned, whether human rights or development organizations. Even the ministry of social affairs, did not participate in the drafting of the law and its proposal has been completely ignored. The law managed to paralyze the activities of associations and foundations to a great extent in view of the possible wide interferences by administrative bodies, including approval of activities, funding etc.

It is clear from the above that most of the guarantees approved by the Egyptian Constitution are wasted by the legislator or practical implementation in front of the courts or through the daily practices of law enforcement agencies. The Constitution has no longer a legal binding value to the three authorities. Dealing with the constitution can be summarized in attempts to subvert it, while keeping the text for the aesthetics of it.

 

Occasionally the president expresses opposition

 

There has been a lot of debate about the timing of the publication and processing of laws from the government to parliament and from parliament to the president on their way to ratification and the dates of publication in the official gazette, but things have gone too far and talking about them has become a farce in the absence of constitutional guarantees.

Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi expressed his opposition to the Clinical Trials Law[4]. It has then been returned to parliament with the presidential comments. Parliament had finally approved the law in question in May of this year, and Sisi used his authority to challenge the law according to Article 123 of the current Constitution[5].

The process of objection involves extensive comments and observations that are not related to the subject of the law but rather to the manner in which they were approved and how the President of the Republic used his constitutional powers. Therefore, the discussion here will deal with the “Clinical Trials Law” project as a case study revealing the manner by which various parties intervene during the process of passing legislations.

The President’s objection was announced by the Speaker of the Egyptian Parliament[6] on 3 October 2018, which means that it has been almost five months between the approval of Parliament and the announcement of the President’s objection to the law, which raises the question of when the laws are being sent to the President for ratification? The question here is related to the constitutional text that gives the president the right to object within 30 days of receiving the approved law. “If the president of the republic objects to a proposed law approved by parliament, it has to be returned within 30 days after being informed by parliament thereof.”

The delay in the periods between approval by parliament and ratification by the president has long been an area of legislative ambiguity, since it provides the presidency with ample time to manipulate its position on the laws, and in turn leaves the lawmakers in a state of anticipation and waiting and sometimes hope that the intervention of the presidency would stop this stream of defective texts, which in the end leads to the absence of legal security and stability, especially since it is repetitive. For example, the enactment of the law regulating the work of associations and other institutions working in the civil field No. 70 of 2017 was approved by Parliament on November 29, 2016, while ratified by the President on 29 May 2017; still its executive regulations have not been issued by the end of 2018, although the law puts a time constraint which states that the issuance of the regulation should be within two months from the date of issuance of the law.

The president’s objection to the Clinical Trials Law included several contradictions. One of the most important of these relates to the relationship between the legislative and executive authorities.

Despite the difference between the two authorities and the assumption that one of them exercises the supervisory role over the other, the practical reality always indicates harmony and agreement between them. Since the formation of the current House of Representatives at the end of 2015 until now, parliament has exercised its legislative role in line with the general wishes of the executive. The two authorities divide the roles between them in addressing the artillery of new legislations. When the proposed law encroaches on rights and freedoms, the president claims that the matter is in the hands of parliament and that he cannot interfere, deliberately forgetting his constitutional authority to object to these laws. The law of clinical trials was revealing of this relationship, after the President of the Republic sent his objections to the law, the speaker of the Egyptian Parliament said that «Well the president did use his constitutional right to object to the draft law, and I think that the researchers and academics in the Hall should be grateful to the President for his keenness that the law is in harmony with the Constitution, and we thank the President for using his right to return it to the Council »[7]. The response of the President to the Council was not understandable, since the law was in the hands of the Council for five months, and many parties had declared the same objections to the bill earlier, but were not taken into consideration at the time.

On the other hand, the president’s objections did not suggest anything new. The president’s remarks related to chronic defects in Egyptian legislation, which have become a kind of legislative philosophy adopted by the Egyptian legislator and can be found in general in most recent legislations. The memorandum of objections issued by the President of the Republic: noted the following

  • The disproportionality between penalties and crimes
  • Some criminalized acts are unrealistic
  • Multiple administrative and security approvals threaten academic life

The observations indicate that the punitive articles 28 to 35, since all these articles do not take into account the nature of the research and the violations are equal in all types of research regardless of the nature and design of the research, which may cause a state of panic and fear among researchers, which in turn may lead to avoidance of conducting scientific research in Egypt.

It also noted that it should be reviewed in accordance with the constitutional provisions, especially in relation to articles 4, 5, 9, 20 and 22, which contain texts requiring the approval of the Supreme Council of Universities and General Intelligence and the supervisory bodies for the search protocol and its inspection, and since medical research includes master’s and doctorate theses and free and funded research in the faculties of medicine, science and pharmaceuticals, there will be a huge amount of research that will be impossible to monitor.

In his memorandum El Sisi said that the text banning analysis of samples of Egyptians abroad is unrealistic. “The law stipulates that sending of human samples abroad entails prison sentences and a fine so that Egyptian genes are not tampered with,” he said.

The question that comes to mind is, since El Sisi’s objections came to that result, why did he not uses those authorities over the past four years regarding all the laws that have been issued in contradiction with the constitution, laws that carry the same problems and that exaggerate penalties and are unrealistic in criminalizing some acts. Those were always the comments made by Egyptian human rights organizations, such as the comments of organizations on the demonstration bill[8], and the recent statement on the flawed texts contained in the “Information Technology Crimes Act”, in which AFTE and Access Now asked the parliament to withdraw the law.

 

Laws without regulations

 

Legislative developments that have taken place over the past few years have not only suffered from contradictions with the constitutional texts but also by shortcomings and lack of self-regulation. The legislator adopted a philosophy based on escaping the clarity of the legislative texts, leaving huge gaps for the executive regulations that amount to legal organization rather than clarification of how the law should be implemented, which constitutes a clear violation of the specific function of each authority, where the executive has been a partner in the process of legislation. This philosophy makes the parliamentary legislation an insufficient or aborted process leaving vast vagueness in the interpretation of the text.

The executive branch also used these spaces to circumvent the legislative and constitutional texts, which are more binding than the executive regulations. It has postponed the issuance of several executive regulations without justification. And although most laws set a timeframe for the issuance of the executive regulations, the current authority considers those non-binding or in a more precise sense will not result in procedural nullity in case of non-compliance.

The delay by the executive branch in the issuance of the executive regulations of the laws was a great concern for those who are being addressed by the laws. These delays succeeded in creating a confusing legal situation. This situation has brought together a number of elements, the most important of which is the weakness of the legal organization of legislation and insufficient texts for implementation. The absence of regulations, which gives the administrative authority wide manoeuvring space in the application of the provisions of the law.

The crisis of the absence of executive regulations was not limited to regulatory laws such as the law regulating the work of associations and other civil institutions, but extended to punitive laws such as electronic crime law.

For example, Article 6 of the association law[9]states that the Prime Minister shall issue the executive regulations of the law within two months from the date of its publication, and until such regulations are issued, the executive regulations and existing resolutions shall continue to be enforced as long as not in contradiction with its provisions. Although the law has been issued in May 2017, the executive regulations have not been issued yet. This means that for a year and a half associations and civil institutions work under a distorted legal organization organized by the provisions of an existing law and the executive regulations of an annulled law. This crisis reflected clearly on the work of a large number of associations and institutions, especially that this is not only about associations, but also about the have been meant to implement the law over the past year and a half.

The same has happened with the law regulating the press and the media[10], since the executive regulation of the law has not yet been issued, despite the passage of the period specified in Article 5, which clarifies the issuance of the executive regulations of the law by a decision of the Prime Minister within three months from the date of its implementation. Before the three months have elapsed, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation issued a declaration that the procedures for legalizing the situation of companies owning websites should be completed. Although there are provisions in the law that specify the conditions for licensing sites, there was lack of clarity regarding the procedure and its nature in the absence of executive regulations, especially that the law in accordance with the provisions of Article 2, obliges the entities, institutions, press and media outlets and websites existing on the date of the operation of the provisions of the law to meet their conditions in accordance with its provisions and executive regulations within six months of the enforcement of the latter. In view of the absence of the regulation, there were no clear steps on how to implement the provisions of the law, which made procedures difficult for the owners of the sites, and even questioned the legality of the procedure in view of the absence of a published resolutions rationing and the absence of a mandatory time to carry out the legalization procedures within two weeks. The executive regulations have not been issued until the time of writing this report.

On the other hand, the law on combating cybercrime was issued in mid-August 2018. The law regulates modern procedural and objective rules on the legislative environment. The provisions of this law are ambiguous and inaccurate in the balance between crimes and penalties, as well as images and forms of crimes. The provisions of the law refer very important details to the executive regulations, even though the law is of penal nature, which means that its provisions must be sufficient in and of themselves. Among the most important texts referred to the Regulations are those referred to in Article 10 with regard to the rules, conditions and procedures for the registration of technical experts, as well as the provisions of Article 11 on technical conditions to be provided in evidence derived from equipment, tools, media or electronic supports, the information system or computer programs, or any other means of information technology to be subjected to the legal text; as well as the provisions of Article 29 on the measures and reserves of insurance required by the person responsible for the administration of the site or private account or e-mail or information system, the non-fulfilment of which will result in penalties up to six months imprisonment or a fine of up to 100 thousand pounds.Despite the severe defect of referring these details to the executive regulations, it has not been issued so far despite the text of Article 44 of the law which requires that the Prime Minister issue the regulations within three months from the date of enforcement of the law.

 

Electronic crime law… a new tool for internet censorship

 

2018 witnessed the continuation of the state’s attempts to control cyberspace after the completion of the control by some of its security apparatuses on the media and press space, and before that the stifling of freedom of assembly and the right to organize, which made cyberspace another and more difficult in the process of systematic shutting down of spaces followed by the Egyptian authorities since July 2013.

The state’s systematic policies to restrict Internet freedom in general have taken several parallel paths. As the Internet siege and suppression of its users has become broader than the existing laws can contain (the Telecommunications Law, the Egyptian Penal Code, and the Anti-Terrorism Law) the state issued a special law to combat crimes of information technology known as the Cyber ​​Crime Act.

Through this law of 45 articles divided into four sections, the State aims at complete control of the Internet, suppression of its users, the codification of State practices in controlling this space, blocking of websites and collective monitoring of communications.

The draft law has been circulated for three consecutive years, until it was passed by the Parliament on 5 June 2018, ratified by the President of the Republic and published in the Official Gazette to become effective from 18 August 2018.

 

  • Surveillance of communications

 

Article 2 of the crimes of information technology act regulates the comprehensive monitoring of communications in Egypt, where telecommunications companies are required to store and keep customer usage data for a period of 180 days. These include user-identifiable data, data on the content and nature of information system, and those relating to the circulation of use and devices used.

This means that telecom providers will have data that describes all user practices, such as phone calls and text messages, all data related to them, sites visited, and applications used on smartphones and computers.

In addition, the law requires telecommunications companies to comply with any “other data to be determined by a decision” from the NTRA board of directors. This means that telecommunication providers can subsequently be obliged to collect and retain data not provided for in the law once an NTRA administrative decision has been issued.

The article also gives national security authorities the right to view such data, and obligates telecommunications service providers to provide the technical facilities therefore. The law defines national security agencies as including “the presidency, the armed forces, the Ministry of Interior, the General Intelligence and the Administrative Control Authority.”

Article 2 does not address any details requiring an association of the surveillance with a court decision to disclose the involvement in a legally established crime. However, the article clearly requires comprehensive monitoring of all users in Egypt. Here, the legislator turned telecommunications companies into a repository of information related to users and obliged them to provide surveillance techniques, which is incompatible with Article 57 of the Egyptian Constitution, which states: ” The right to privacy may not be violated, shall be protected and may not be infringed upon. Postal, telegraphic and electronic correspondences, telephone calls, and other means of communication are inviolable, and their confidentiality is guaranteed. They may not be confiscated, revealed or monitored except by virtue of a reasoned judicial order, for a definite period, and only in the cases defined by Law.” Thus, article 2 of the Cybercrime Act infringes on the constitutional protection of communication data.

Although article 2 establishes comprehensive monitoring as a constant legal practice, article 6 of the law specifically refers to the possibility of issuing a temporary injunction issued by the competent investigative bodies to the competent judicial officers, for a period of not more than 30 days, renewable for one time, to monitor a person when it is useful in revealing the truth on the commission of a crime punishable under the provisions of this law.

 

2Strict penalties for breaches

 

One of the main features of the IT Crimes Law is the intensification and expansion of sanctions in a way that reflects the government’s intention to tighten an iron grip on the Internet and its users. The law follows satirical pages and accounts and pursues those responsible. The IT Crimes Act describes this type of accounts as “fabrication of sites, special accounts and e-mail”. Penalties under article 24 of the law range from a fine to imprisonment according to violations committed.

This article comes as an attempt to legalize attempts by security authorities and the Egyptian investigative bodies to persecute this type of accounts and pages. For example, the State Security Prosecution accused Amr Mohamed (known as Amr Socrates) of publishing false news that would disturb public peace and security through the use of social networks, because of his management of a page titled “Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.” Amr Socrates was held in custody for approximately 11 months.

The law also tends to punish individuals in view of their lacking technological know-how. For example, if an individual’s account, private blog or a site of which he is an administrator s subjected to hacking because he is not aware of how to protect his sites, or because there is a security gap in the system used, he would be subject to imprisonment. This approach does not suit the rate of technological developments, how the Internet works, and the security of information systems.

According to Article 29 of the IT Crimes Act, those whose electronic account or sites have been compromised can be punished for not taking the necessary measures and precautions. The penalty of imprisonment shall be for a period of not less than 6 months and a fine not less than 10,000 pounds and not exceeding 100,000 pounds or either of these penalties

These are not the only punishments for site managers, who are defined by the IT Crimes Act as “anyone responsible for organizing, managing, following up or maintaining one or more websites, including access rights for different users of that site or its design, or generate or organize its pages or content or are responsible for it.” They are subject to multiple penalties between imprisonment and fines as a result of acts that AFTE does not see as proportional to the penalties.

For example, the law equates the definition of a site administrator with different responsibilities, since site content management is a different responsibility from the responsibility of securing it as well as for the responsibility of its design, development and programming. On the other hand, the law has imposed sanctions that are disproportionate to the extent of criminal offenses. There is also an absence of a legal logic behind the imposition of a deprivation of liberty because of the failure to protect the site or electronic account, because the legislator assumes that everyone has the same level of technical knowledge and skill, and ignores the nature of information systems regarding unknown gaps or the fact that there is no information system that is fully secure.

In addition to the penalties related to fines and freedom deprivation the law did nt miss to include the penalty of a travel ban. In accordance with Article 9 of the IT Crimes Law, the Attorney General or his authorized representative and the competent investigative authorities may, when necessary, prohibit travel outside the country or place names on arrival alert lists for a temporary period of time and reasons thereof. The Public Prosecutor’s Office may, at any time, revoke the order issued by it, and may amend it by removing the name of the accused from the travel ban lists or arrival alerts for a specified period, if necessary. The travel ban ends one year after the date of issuance of the order, or by a decision that there is no basis for criminal proceedings or a final decision on acquittal, whichever comes first.

The law allows the appeal against travel ban or the decision to be placed on the waiting lists before the competent criminal court, within 15 days from the date of knowledge thereof. If the appeal is rejected, the person entitled to the decision has the right to file a new complaint. The court has to adjudicate the appeal within a period not exceeding 15 days from the date of its approval.

The Egyptian authorities had expanded the issuance of travel bans during the past three years towards activists, human rights defenders, journalists and writers. The legislator of the Information Technology Crimes Act establishes the use of travel ban as a punishment, as the Attorney General gives investigators the power to prevent travel, most likely to be used later to harass users of social media sites, journalists and activists.

 

3Website blocking, continued obsession with monopoly of information

 

The blocking of websites during 2018 focused on blocking press and media sites. Although the new laws codified the practice of blocking, the body responsible for blocking more than 500 sites is still unknown until now, despite lawsuits in front of the administrative judiciary in this regard.

The law to combat cybercrime is devoted to blocking websites, according to Article 7, where websites can be blocked in the event of the publication of any content that constitutes a crime under the law provided that it poses a threat to national security or jeopardizes the security of the country or its national economy, all of which are vague, loose terms usually used by the Egyptian legislator. The site is blocked in this case whether it is broadcasted from inside Egypt or from abroad. In previous periods, victims of violations of freedom of expression in Egypt faced similar charges, such as investigating nine journalists from Al-Masry Al-Youm on the background of the publication of a report entitled “The State Mobilizes the Voters”, accusing them of publishing false news that could harm security and the public interest.

The law grants investigating bodies and detectives (police) the authority to block sites directly, preceding a judicial control of such decisions, where investigators can request the blocking of websites if they believe that these sites constitute a threat to national security or the security of the country or put its national economy at risk, provided that the order of concealment is brought before a competent court within 24 hours, which issues its decision within 72 hours. In the event of urgency or imminent danger or damage, the police may request the NTRA, which in turn requests the providers to temporarily block a site, to implement this request immediately upon receipt, provided the matter is presented to investigation bodies within 48 hours, which in turn presents it to Court as mentioned above.

In addition to the “Cyber ​​Crime” Law, Article 19 of the Press and Information Regulation Law was drafted in a vague and undefined form, giving the law enforcement authorities the discretion to block websites, without strict criteria. This is a regular legislative trend by the Egyptian Parliament, aimed at adapting issued laws to violate the rights of citizens. According to this article, a site may be blocked if it publishes or disseminates false news or promotes or incites a violation of the law, violence or hatred, discriminates against citizens, promotes racism or intolerance, defames individuals or slanders them, or carries an insult to the heavenly religions or religious beliefs. Most of the material in this article is loosely expressed and used against defendants for expressing their views, whether through digital media or otherwise, as in the case of blogger and activist Wael Abbas, who was accused of publishing false news on social networks.

Not only did the legislator block websites in the press and media regulating law, but also empowered the Supreme Media Council to block personal accounts on social networking sites, according to the text of Article 19 of the law, if an electronic account or website broadcast false news or called or incited violation of the law, violence, hatred, discrimination against citizens, racism or intolerance, or a challenge to public figures or their defamation or involved an insult to divine religions or religious beliefs; in those cases the Supreme Media Council may stop or block the site or blog or site or a personal electronic account with 5000 or more followers or viewers.

The Supreme Council for Media Regulation has the power to block websites, as well as websites, accounts and personal blogs with more than 5,000 followers, according to the law governing the press and media.

The law requires telecommunications companies to implement the blocking decision immediately upon its receipt. In case of non-implementation (in accordance with Article 30), imprisonment shall be imposed for a period of not less than one year and a fine not less than five hundred thousand pounds and not exceeding one million pounds or one of these penalties. If the failure to implement the decision of the court results in the death of one or more persons or harming national security, the penalty shall be up to a maximum imprisonment and a fine not less than three million pounds and not exceeding twenty million pounds in addition to withdrawal of license.

The two laws regulate the process of appeal against the decision of blocking. According to the law of “cybercrime” if the issuing authority is the public prosecutor or investigating magistrate or a police station the affected person is entitled to appeal against the decision of blocking or the procedures of its implementation before the competent criminal court after the expiration of seven days from the date of issuance or the date of its implementation. If the appeal is rejected, a new grievance may be filed, every three months after the date of rejection. The court shall decide on the grievance within a period not exceeding 7 days.

In the case of the press and media regulation law, the decision to ban the media can be appealed before the Supreme Media Council and then the administrative court in case the appeal is refused by the former or no response was made within 60 days.

Referring to the reasons for the blocking of some press sites, it is clear that the Egyptian authorities want to silence any different voice and prevent any other account of events other than the official narrative that the state is trying to monopolize. Among those sites is the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, which has been blocked inside Egypt since Saturday, 20 January 2018, after covering the news of the sacking of the director of Egyptian intelligence, and Egyptian readers have not been able to access the newspaper again since that date.

The blocking of websites was not limited to press sites that address public or political affairs. It is no longer surprising to issue instructions to block a technical website that has nothing to do with politics, as punishment for publishing news that touches on a Saudi businessman or official, not even from the ruling family. This is exactly what happened with the site of anEgyptian art company, “Sarmadi”, after the publication of the story of the assaultby the Saudi businessman, the head of the General Authority for Sport, Turki Al-Sheikh, against Egyptian artist, Amal Maher, after news of their marriage was not confirmed by both parties. On the day after the assault and the release of an official record of the incident, the news was deleted from almost all the news sites. A statement by Amal Maher was published, in which she denied the news of the attack saying “that it was nothing more than a disagreement over some technical matters and that the news of the assault is totally devoid of the truth.” Then the site was completely blocked in Egypt at eight o’clock on Monday, 19 March 2018.

It is also worth mentioning that a number of blocked websites in Egypt have been suspended and dismissed because of their inability to withstand the economic effects of the blockage, including the site of “Kateb” and the site of “Corrabia” and other press sites that issued press statements announcing that they stopped working, mourning press freedom in Egypt.

During 2018, several press and media laws were discussed in the House of Representatives. Despite the criticisms of the draft laws at the time, both internationally and locally that they did not comply with international standards in guaranteeing the right to opinion and expression, they have been approved and ratified by the president a few months ago.

These laws havegiven a “legal” character to authoritarian practices exercised by the state and its authorities in order to tighten control over freedom of expression, the press and the media, as well as cyberspace, using measures such as prosecution, surveillance and blocking in its plan to fight “terrorism”. They also permitted administrative and security intervention in the press and the media operations through the creation of bodies that were supposed to have a regulatory role but were granted wide powers of censorship violating freedom of expression.

 

The three press laws… media under control

 

The Press and Media regulating law and the law of the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, No. 180 of 2018, restricts the definition of a journalist or media person to those registered in the syndicate of journalists or media professionals. Given the highly complex registration conditions in the two unions, many journalists and media professionals will be denied access under the umbrella of the law and thus will not receive the necessary guarantees for the journalist.

On the other hand, the draft law on press and media regulation requires that the employees of the Syndicate of Journalists or the Media Syndicate of Journalists should be responsible for editing or managing the programs, which deprives those who are not registered of the right to obtain these posts, according to Articles (40) and (55). The law also stipulates that the percentage of those registered in the union’s schedules shall not be less than 70% of the employees of the newspaper or the website, according to Article (42).

The law links the rights and obligations of journalists and media professionals with loose and vague terms such as national security or public morals. In the light of the articles of the Egyptian Penal Code concerning “spreading false news” and “defamation”, the law will not provide real protection for them on the occasion of their assignment.

The law also gives the Supreme Council for Media Regulation the authority to prevent press items issued or broadcasted from abroad “for considerations that are required by national security.” In the same article, it uses the expression “articles which address religions and religious doctrines which might disturb the general peace”. In Article 5, which defines the prohibition against licensing or revoking the license, the legislator used terms that allow the administrative authority to arbitrarily use its authority, including “regional intolerance”, “hostile activity against the principles of democracy”, “incitement to pornography”.

Regarding the laws of the National Press Commission no. 179/2018 and the national media commission no. 178/2018, article 7 of the latter stipulates that the President of the Republic shall choose three persons directly for the membership of the Commission, including the Chairman of the National Media Commission of the total of 8 Members. This means that the President directly appoints one third of the members of the National Information Commission. Article (7) gives the Ministry of Finance, the Council of State and the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority the authority to select a member for each of them separately, while the media union, the press union and the printing and media union and the bureau of the House of Representatives have to nominate one member for each of them, provided that each of these entities nominates twice the number required of them, so that the president chooses among them the required number. It is also required that the nominations be sent within three months of the request, and if not sent, the President of the Republic shall complete the names taking into account the category they represent, upon the nomination of the House of Deputies. This means that the executive authority directly controls through the President of the Republic the power to form a national media body, which challenges its independence.

Article (7) of the law of the National Press Commission deals with the formation of the Commission, which includes seven members from which the President directly selects three members, namely the Chairman of the Commission and two experienced and public figures, while the Council of the Journalists Syndicate has two members and each of the Chamber of Deputies and the Council of the General Union of Press, Printing and Information Workers has one nomination each, and these bodies must, in the last three months of the term of the Commission, nominate twice the number required for the President of the Republic to choose from them, and in the absence of nominations from these bodies, the president will directly appoint them. The Minister of Finance selects a member of the Authority as the representative of the Ministry of Finance, and the Supreme Council of Administrative Affairs of the State Council elects a Vice-Chairman of the Council of State for membership of the Commission. Thus, the President of the Republic has the upper hand in the formation of the National Press Agency, which undermines its independence from the executive branch.

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