Legalising repression: How authority tightens the control of freedom of expression

Date : Sunday, 18 March, 2018

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Since the summer of 2013, the Egyptian state sought to eliminate all forms of free expression of opinion in all fields, where extensive campaigns mounted on the right of citizens to demonstrate, organize, freedom of the press and the media and the university community both students and faculty members, as well as on the various forms of digital expression and freedom of creativity. In the course of these campaigns, the State has closed all areas that had been opened in one way or another after the January Revolution, using different paths in dealing with the movement of people and their various organizations, including security, legislative, legal and administrative paths. Of course, the security course was overwhelming, and the state did not care whether these procedures were legal or not. The crackdown continued to violate the existing constitution or laws, as well as an apparent hostility to acknowledged principles of human rights.

The new feature of this year is that the State is seriously working to codify its repressive measures and to establish a new map of the emerging system, including legislative amendments in various areas, including with regard to amendments to Criminal Procedure and other laws which create new councils such as the media union and the Supreme Media Council, the imposition nationwide of emergency law in April after it was imposed only in the Sinai, then renewing it for another three months and then manipulate the constitution for a third renewal. It was clear that the regime is establishing a new roadmap to be extended for years as well as providing a legal foundation for security measures taken in the years after July 2013.

Another salient feature of this year is a qualitative change in the nature of the violations, in other words, repression permeated the details of everyday life after it was focused on acts that could be called political activities. Violations against freedom of expression affected details of social living, with a greater moral and value system rationalization reflecting the conservative nature of the regime. Examples in this regard are many, which did not start with the issue of waving the rainbow flag and the subsequent attacks on the gay community nor did it end with penalties on university students because of hugs on campus or organizing  parties or wearing certain clothes, as well as referral of teaching staff to disciplinary committees on charges related to freedom of belief because of their writings on social media, in addition to those decisions related to deletion of certain scenes from television series for moral reasons.

The third aspect relates to the great battle that the State has been waging over the ownership and circulation of information over the past year, a battle for the domination of its voice and discourse, without allowing any other voices to reach the public. This battle has multiple aspects; blocking websites, which of course can be read from various angles but it cannot be denied that a central reason for this blocking is that the state does not want to grant the public access to any sources except those accepted by the state.

On the other hand, this year the State expanded the influence of the state information agency, appointing former head of the press syndicate Diaa Rashwan as its president. It is clear that the state wants the agency to play a pivotal role in directing and feeding global media with targeted information in the absence of alternative information. This is in addition to the provisions on the dissemination of information in the Terrorism Act, which pose a major challenge to the press institutions for fear of sanctions imposed on them if they publish any information related to the “war on terror.” In addition, the State has started to draft a law for the exchange of information. On the one hand, it wants to regulate the disclosure of information within the limitations of restrictions referred to above, and on the other hand it wants to establish regulations for the exchange of information according to the rules of the new regime.

In this report, specifically in Section II, we attempt to present the three characteristics mentioned above by analyzing and presenting examples in relation to the issues addressed by AFTE, giving examples of the different actors in an annex. In the first section we present violations monitored and verified by the Monitoring and Documentation Unit, and we have added a supplement that presents statistics and graphs of these violations. The report concludes with a number of recommendations for some actors.

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