(Situation of Freedom of Expression in Egypt, 3rd Quarter (July– September 2018

Date : Tuesday, 16 October, 2018
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IV. Presentation and analysis of patterns of violations of freedom of expression

In its second section, the report addresses violations of press and media freedom, digital rights and freedom of creativity, dealing with the analysis of developments in patterns of violations in relation to past practices of the current authority or the impact of the political and legislative context on their pace.

The following figure shows the total number of violations of freedom of expression
during the third quarter of 2018, documented by the Monitoring and Documentation
Unit of AFTE :

Press and media freedom

During the reporting period, AFTE documented 16 incidents of violations of media freedom. The most prominent types of violations were those related to the decisions of the Supreme Media Council against programs and channels, the most prominent of which was the Council’s decision to suspend the broadcast of the special LTC channel for two weeks[15] on September 3, 2018. The Council attributed the reasons for the decision to repeated violations by the channel and issuance of more than ten decisions to block some programs for consecutive periods and imposing of fines. The decision added that the channel violated the decision of the Council to prevent the appearance of “homosexuals” or propagating their slogans, according to the resolution.

This decision was not the only one against the LTC channel and its programs during the reporting period. On 17 July 2018, the Council decided to suspend the Audience Star program[16] presented by journalist Abu al-Maati Zaki, against the background of what the resolution described as transgressions and accusations in the July 15, 2018 episode, without providing legal grounds for the accusations.

On September 1, 2018, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation decided to suspend the Sah’ Al-Noum[17] program broadcasted on LTC because of the so-called using media in settling accounts, according to the decision, a vague statement, the meaning of which is not clear. Officials at the Supreme Council for Media Regulation probably did not pay attention to the wording of the resolution. In the same context, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation decided to stop the program “Zamalek Stadium” broadcast on the ElHadath Alyoum[18] channel for two weeks, using the same working as above.

On July 4, 2018, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation issued a decision to impose a gag order in the case of the Child Cancer Hospital 57357 until the Ministerial Committee has completed examination of the case. The Council called on all parties to stop writing on the subject, to stop broadcasting the audio and video programs that deal with the subject, and to deal with any new information by submitting it to the judicial authorities or the Commission of Inquiry or publication through the Council. It is noteworthy that the Attorney General issued a decision clarifying that the gag order by the Supreme Media Regulating Council is illegal and void. The chair of the council was then summoned by the prosecution to investigate his violation of the law by issuing this order.

The prevention of coverage continues to be one of the most prominent types of violations of freedom of information during the third quarter of 2018. AFTE documented 4 incidents preventing coverage by journalists and the media, three of them collectively. On July 17, 2018, officials of the Ministry of Antiquities prevented various media outlets from covering the procedures of opening the ark, which was discovered in Alexandria[19]. On August 4, 2018, members of the Council of the Scientific Professions Syndicate prevented the media from covering the emergency meeting called for by some members of the Syndicate Council[20].

On August 27, 2018, the security of the Arabs Mall prevented journalists from covering the special screening of the Souq Algoma’a[21] film, although the film company invited journalists to cover the opening. The mall security requested the police to prevent entry of cameras or interviews with main actors.

Another incident involved the prevention of a journalist from performing her work in Port Said[22], where, Naira El Gabry, correspondent of Al-Fajr newspaper in Port Said was prevented from entering the Egyptian club and covering its news, against a backdrop of the journalist’s previous publishing of a report concerning nonpayment of dues of some of the players and their subsequent refusal to attend training after they were given checks with no balance. According to the journalist’s testimony to AFTE, following the publication of the report, she was surprised by threatening calls from a board member of the Egyptian club. She added that after the publication of the report, the Board of Directors of the Egyptian club issued a decision to ban her entry to the club or any of its branches, and prevented her from covering the club’s news and teams.

Television anchor Lamis El Hadidy, was also prevented from appearing to present her program Hona Elasema on the private CBC TV satellite channel. Hadidi and the program team were preparing to resume the program on September 1, 2018, before the team was surprised by the decision to present Riham Ibrahim for the episode instead of Hadidi, without informing the team of the reasons, according to a report published by the Mada Masr[23].

Regarding court decisions against journalists, on 31 July 2018, AFTE documented the support by the Misdemeanor Court of Sayeda Zeinab of the imprisonment of journalist Hamdi Al-Zaeem for charges of publishing false news on the grounds of covering the arrival of dead bodies to the Zinham morgue, which the ministry of interior had said were killed during security confrontation in a residential apartment in the 6th of October City, west of Cairo. According to his testimony, Al-Zaeem was convicted in January 2016 of a three-year prison sentence before appealing the verdict. His appeal was rejected.

On the level of disciplinary measures taken by media institutions towards its journalists, Al-Masry Al-Youm’s management decided to dismiss journalist Hadir Farghaly from her work at Al-Masry Al Youm on the basis of a complaint from her manager accusing her of absenteeism without informing the administration, resulting in disruption of work according to her testimony to AFTE. Farghaly added that she did not know anything about these complaints and that she was not investigated to prove or deny the allegation. Once she learned of the decision, she filed grievances and complaints against her direct manager, in which she recounts the true facts of her absence from work. However, the Human Resources Department did not investigate, and issued a decision to fire her on 28 August 2018.

On another level, on September 11, 2018, the Judicial Committee for the management of Muslim Brotherhood funds issued a decision to hold a reservation on Al-Masryoun newspaper and its website[24], without giving reasons for that decision. It is noteworthy that a force of members of the Committee to manage the funds of the group accompanied by a police force, raided the headquarters of the newspaper Al-Masrioun, on 24 September 2018, and they took custody of the office and its contents, delegating its administration to Akhbar Alyoum newspaper. Al-Masryoun website has been blocked as part of the website blocking campaign, which is being carried out by an unknown government agency.

The arrest of journalists is one of the most prominent types of violations documented in the report, with the further arrest of three journalists during the reporting period.

Update of list of imprisoned journalists

 Journalists added to the list during the third quarter:

  • On July 10, 2018, El Tahrir newspaper journalist Mohamed Abu Zayd Kamel handed himself over to al-Ma’asara police station, south of Cairo, after his house was searched in his absence. However, he was not presented to the prosecution until June 24, 2018. The journalist was added to state security case No. 441 of 2018, charged with joining a terrorist group and spreading false news.
  • Islam Goma’a: TheVeto newspaper journalist was arrested from his home on June 29, 2018, but he appeared before the prosecution only on August 7, 2018, in state security case 441 of 2018, charged with joining a terrorist group and spreading false news. The newspaper fired him after his arrest.
  • Zeinab Abu Aouna: On August 16, 2018, the photographer in the El Watan newspaper was arrested by security authorities at Cairo airport while traveling to the Lebanese capital Beirut to attend a training workshops. Abu Aouna appeared before the State Security Prosecution, accused of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news, under State Security Case No. 441 of 2018.

 Journalists who have completed their prison term during the third quarter:

  • Abdullah Ahmad Ismail Al-Fakharani and Mohammed Mohammed Mustafa Al-Adly: Abdullah Al-Fakharani, journalist and executive director of Rassd News Network, and Mohammed Al-Adly, a television correspondent for Amjad channel, ended their five-year prison term, which was supported by the Court of Cassation. They were charged in the case known in the media as the Raba’s operation room; the two journalists completed their release procedures.
  • Samhi Mustafa Ahmed Abdel-Alim: Samhi Mustafa, a journalist with the Rassd news network, completed his 5 years prison sentence. However he has not been released until the time of writing this report.
  • Mahmoud Abdel Shakur Abu Zaid “Shawkan”: Mahmoud Abu Zaid, a photojournalist, was sentenced to 5 years in prison. He completed the sentence, nonetheless he has not been released until the time of writing this report.

Digital Rights

Patterns of violations did not differ in the third quarter of 2018 from earlier periods, with violations related to freedom of expression using digital media and Internet censorship. During the period covered by the report, citizens were prosecuted for publishing opinions on the Internet. Tareq Shawqi, Minister of Education, filed a complaint against science teacher Ahmed Said Abdul Samad, accusing him of libel and slander, and spreading false news about the progress and development of the education system in Egypt.

On 25 September 2018, the Cairo appellate prosecution decided to detain the teacher for a period of 4 days, pending investigation in case no. 33 of 2018[25]. According to the investigations, the teacher used his personal account on Facebook to direct insult and slander to the Minister of Education and to disseminate false information and news that would distort the image of the ministry and harm the educational system in Egypt.

On May 31, 2018, security forces arrested Lebanese citizen Mona Mathbouh before she left the country after an arrest warrant was issued by the Public Prosecutor’s Office for publishing a video on social media sites telling about her visit to Egypt. Prosecutors charged Mathbouh with directing abuse at the Egyptian people by publishing a video on her Facebook page that contains words and phrases punishable by law.

On June 7, the Heliopolis Court of Misdemeanor sentenced her to 11 years for publishing a vulgar video of contempt and defamation of religions. On the same day, the Court decided to commute the sentence to 8 years instead of 11[26]. Mathbouh subsequently filed an appeal against the ruling. The Heliopolis court of appeal reduced the sentence to a suspended one year, with a fine of LE 10700, on 9 September 2018.

In another case, which also revolves around a video clip, the Maadi prosecutor decided to refer activist Amal Fathi to trial in case No. 7991/2018 after she had been earlier released on bail of 10,000 pounds[27]. On September 29, 2018, the Maadi Misdemeanor Court sentenced Amal Fathi to two years’ imprisonment, a bail of 10,000 pounds and a fine of 20,000 pounds to suspend the sentence until the appeal was granted. Fathi was charged with spreading false news and broadcasting a video to overthrow the regime and misuse social media.

Amal Fathi is still in pre-trial detention in another case to which she was added, state security case no. 621/2018 where she is accused of joining a terrorist group, promoting an act of terrorism and publishing false news. There are at least six activists in custody in four different cases mentioned in the previous quarterly report. They are accused of spreading false news, joining a terrorist group and using social networking sites to promote the ideas of that terrorist group and the abuse of social media.

Journalist Hassan Hussein was released with precautionary measures, including surveillance at the police station, after being detained for more than six months in state security case no. 482/2018 on charges of joining a terrorist group and spreading his ideas through social networks and publishing false news.

With regard to Internet censorship, the Authority has continued to block Web sites, a practice that has been widely launched since May 2017 and has not stopped until this report was issued. Recently, sites that are newly launched are being blocked after a short period of time. The previous AFTE report documented the block of Katib website a few hours after its launch. During the third quarter of 2018, Geem site was blocked, less than a month after its launch. Geem is one of the most specialized sites in gender, sex and sexuality.

AFTE also documented the blocking of at least five other sites, ranging from press sites and technology-related sites. This brings the number of blocked sites in Egypt to more than 500 since the start of widespread interdiction.

On September 7, 2018, Raseef 22 website published a statement entitled “Forbidden to Egyptians … Until when suppression of freedom of expression?” [28], one day after being blocked in Egypt. “We have never been unaware of the” red lines drawn by the Egyptian censor to the media, and we have followed the news stories of blocking sites, just like all others interested in the field of media, but we decided to go beyond them, because the philosophy of our existence is based on crossing the red lines. There is the media of the authority and the media of the citizen. Raseef 22 is part of the media of the citizen.” power and citizen’s information is a part of citizen’s media. “

These practices follow President Sisi’s ratification of the Information Technology Crimes Act, which allows blocking of sites, collective monitoring of communications and imposing full control over the Internet. AFTE expects that charges regarding digital rights will increase with the application of this law.

Freedom of creativity

With the beginning of the third quarter of 2018, the Prime Minister issued a decree on the organization of festivals or celebrations, which was published in the Official Gazette on 11 July 2018. The decree imposes restrictions on the freedom of creativity and creators. The decision prohibits the organization or establishment of any festivals or celebrations except after the organizers obtained a license from a high committee of at least 15 members headed by the Minister of Culture, and includes representatives of several ministries and bodies, a representative of the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, in addition to the heads of trade unions and the three heads of literary unions, the number of which was not specified[29].

The resolution also stipulates that the Minister of Culture is empowered to reject the application for permission to hold a celebration if he believes that it does not achieve the objectives of developing creativity, preserving the Egyptian identity, promoting cultural, economic and social development, and activating cultural exchange between Egypt and the countries of the world. The Minister of Culture may suspend the festival or revoke its license after granting it, without any conditions.

We cannot separate the Prime Minister’s decision from the attacks on some festivals during the period covered by the report. AFTE documented violations that varied between preventing public shows and preventing creators from entering Egypt or deporting them. This shows the tendency of the authority to control creativity and restrict creators.

In the afternoon of 31 August 2018, a security force of 4 members of the Civil Protection entered the theater of the Beni Suef Cultural Palace, claiming that the usual inspection of security and safety precautions was carried out. The Civil Protection Force verbally abused the workers at the Palace of Culture. They also directed insults to the director of Beni Suef Culture Palace, Mohamed Abdel Wahab, and forced him to sign a statement that the Beni Suef Palace is not safe for any of its activities or reception of visitors. [30]

As a result, the preparations for the carnival of Arabic music and singing stopped. The Civil Protection Force then prevented its public display, which was due to be shown on the same evening, although the staff at the Culture Palace sent letters to the Security Directorate to follow up the procedures, according to a phone conversation with one of the employees.

This was not the only incident associated with the banning of a festival. The official page of the Sawasia Short and Documentary Film Festival on Facebook published on September 16, 2018, stating that the festival was banned without any announcement or notice of the reasons for the ban: “We were surprised only one hour before the start of the festival with unprecedented procedures with a complaint and notification of the cinema to prevent any festival activities, despite all technical and administrative preparations and before the arrival of the invitees. We have not been officially informed so far of any reasons for the ban[31].”

“After the festival management transferred the show to another hall, electricity was cut from that hall and nowhere else in Post Taufik. It is noteworthy that this is the first season of the festival, which is organized by Sawasiya Cultural Salon headed by MP Abdel Hamid Kamal.

In the second season of El Gouna Film Festival, Egyptian security refused to grant a visa to the Syrian film team “The Day I Lost My Shadow”, a participant in the feature film competition. The director and co-producer of the film “Soudat Kadan” posted on her Facebook page on September 21, 2018, announcing that she was unable to attend the film because she and the actress Sawsan Arshid and producer Amira Kadaan did not obtain visas and approvals to enter Egypt. “All members of the film team “The Day I Lost My Shadow” were unable to obtain entry visas to Egypt, as the director, producer and principal actress Sawsan Arshid did not receive the visas and security approvals that allow them to enter and present the film. Since this is the first showing in the Middle East, we would have been happy to celebrate the film with the Egyptian and Elghouna audience.” The film was shown in the absence of its makers.

In the same context, security forces deported Palestinian actor Ali Sulaiman from Hurghada airport outside the country after he arrived in Egypt to participate as a jury member in the feature film competition at the El Gouna Festival on 19 September 2018. Suleiman posted on his Facebook page: “Where, unfortunately the officer in charge at the airport dealt with me inhumanly and I was deported on the same plane on which I arrived from Istanbul without giving me the right to ask why I was prevented from entering beloved Egypt.”

On the level of creative amateur work, the police arrested a group of amateurs for filming a short film about drugs in Ezbet Khairallah, where the official page of the Ministry of Interior on Facebook published a statement from the Cairo Security Directorate on 4 September 2018 that “8 individuals were arrested while they were filming a video without permit in violation of the provisions of the law without a permit, that included allegations of their use of drugs and trafficking, and its promotion through the web and the Internet. “

The statement added that the public security sector formed a joint research team with the criminal investigation services in Cairo that was able to conduct investigations and gather information to identify the persons mentioned. The prosecution charged them with filming a video where they enacted being arrested during a raid on drug traffickers, with the intention of gaining fame, without obtaining security approval. They were also charged with carrying firearms and knives. On September 5, 2018, the appeals judge of Dar El Salaam Misdemeanor Court sentenced them to 15 days pending investigations.

Thus, the ongoing onslaught on freedom of creativity seems to have taken a new turn through the new rules for organizing festivals or celebrations, with the accompanying restrictions by the police and civil protection agencies. The current authority is likely worried of free space for art and culture in view of the President’s wish to exert full control over media and culture.

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