Speech under siege from street to internet Annual Report on the State of Freedom of Expression in Egypt for 2019

Date : Sunday, 23 February, 2020


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Monitoring and Documentation Unit: Wessam Atta, director of the unit and Sarah Mohsen, researcher at the unit

Legal unit: Hassan El Azhary, former director of the unit

Research unit: Sarah Ramdan, Mostafa Shawqi and Mahmoud Nagey

General supervision and editing Mohamed Nagey




Section one: A reading into the violations of freedom of expression

  • Freedom of the media
  • Digital rights
  • Academic freedom
  • Freedom of creativity
  • Freedom of information

Section two: The attack on freedom of expression during the constitutional amendments and the September demonstrations

  • The increasing frequency of blocking in light of political events
  • Violating the privacy of individuals in light of the September events
  • Ready charges: Spreading rumors and misusing social media

Conclusion and recommendations


Over the past six years -prior to this report- the current regime established its control over political life and undermined the gains of the January 25 revolution that promoted freedom of expression, public debate, and political accountability. The most recent of the regime’s steps was the issuance of legislations that violated freedom of the media and digital rights in an unprecedented manner, which the previous annual report mentioned.

It seems that the past few years, with their restrictions on freedom of expression, were not enough to ensure the stability of the current regime. The more the interest in public affairs increased, the more the Sisi regime hit hard, targeting all forms of free expression and the most interactive groups in public debate such as journalists, social media users, university professors and political activists.

It can be said that this direct relationship between the interest in politics and the violation of freedom of expression was manifested in two events throughout the year 2019. The first event was the constitutional amendments, the main objective of which was to give president Sisi the right to remain in office until 2030. The second event was a call to protest against the policies of Sisi, known as the September demonstrations. In both events the main goal was silencing critical voices, as the report shows in its first section, which reviews violations throughout the year.

On the other hand, the current regime continued to withhold information, driven by its fear of citizens expressing their opinion and seeking access to information. The parliament suspended the issuance of a law addressing freedom of information, and proposed a law to combat rumors, without answering the question of how to recognize the difference between information and rumor if the state does not disclose official information, in the first place. In addition, security or sovereign entities continue to block websites, without caring to use the repressive laws enacted in 2018.

This report is divided into two sections. The first reviews violations committed by the various state agencies regarding freedom of expression, specifically in the media, digital rights, creativity, academic freedom and the circulation of information. The second section focuses on analyzing the violations committed by the security services during two prominent political events that took place during the months of April and September.


This report monitors the state of freedom of expression in Egypt during 2019; it is the seventh periodic report issued by the association in this regard. The report relied on an analysis of the nature of violations that were monitored, documented and verified by the association’s monitoring and documentation unit, as well as the researchers’ observations and follow-up of the files that they work on throughout the year. The files in question are freedom of expression, freedom of the press and the media, academic freedom, students’ rights, freedom of information, freedom of creativity, and digital rights. The monitoring and documentation unit adopts a specific methodology for monitoring violations, as follows:

  • Collecting primary data It is the stage during which the team collects primary data from the sources available to its members, which includes:
  • Data available to the association’s lawyers

The association works to support and promote freedom of expression in Egypt through several mechanisms, including providing direct legal support to victims of violations of freedom of expression. In this context, the association relies in monitoring violations related to freedom of expression, partly, on the information available to the legal unit related to cases it follows, through communication between the association’s lawyers and victims, or the lawyers’ access to the files or information related to the cases they don’t follow.

  • Data available online

In collecting primary data, the association relies on surveying news websites and social media, so the news related to violations is monitored. In that, the association relies on the tools provided by Google search engine and various social media sites, especially digital platforms that contain categories relevant to the files the association follows.

  • Organizing primary data

The monitoring and documentation unit’s team organizes the primary data collected, so that it is classified according to each of the topics the unit follows. This is done as an organizational stage to start the verification of each violation.

  • Data verification

The association relies on a set of mechanisms to verify the primary data collected, which includes the following:

  • Official documents: Although in many cases there is difficulty in obtaining reliable and official documents to document violations, the association’s team sometimes depends on official statements issued by government agencies published in newspapers, news websites, official government websites and government accounts on social media. The association also works through the legal support team to obtain police reports and lawsuits papers related to violations monitored by the association’s monitoring and documentation team.
  • Victims’ testimonies: The association seeks to communicate directly with the victims from the target groups to document the violations committed against them. The testimonies are collected either through direct meetings or over the phone.
  • Eyewitnesses: In the event that it is not possible to obtain direct testimonies from the victims, the staff tries to obtain testimonies from eyewitnesses, the families of the victims, or their lawyers.
  • Digital verification tools: The association relies on some technical tools to verify the authenticity of images and photocopies published on the internet, especially social media, in particular to verify images of assaults or images of official decisions or data issued by a government agency.
  • Relevant human rights organizations: The monitoring and documentation team often communicates with other human rights organizations working in the same areas of the association to obtain data about violations that the team monitors, especially with regard to lawsuits before the courts.
  • Multiplicity of sources: Sometimes the documentation is done by verifying the data available to the staff from various press sources, especially with regard to the violations against some of the target groups such as the prevention of coverage for journalists and media professionals.
  • Monitoring blocked websites: The association relies in monitoring blocked websites in Egypt on the (ooniprobe) software, which is free software that works as a network to detect monitoring, control and interference in the traffic of data on the internet. The tool provides tests to ensure that websites are blocked, as well as a range of other network tests. In addition to detect whether the websites work or not by trying them through the regular browser and other tools that can bypass blocking such as (TOR) browser.


  • Digitizing the data

The monitoring and documentation unit’s team digitally archives all the violations that have been monitored, including the materials that were used in the verification, data, official papers, and the method that was followed to verify, in addition to direct testimonies from the victims or their relatives.

  • Definitions

Violation: In its monitoring of violations, the association relies on the provisions of international conventions on freedom of expression, such as article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the basic international framework that codifies this right:

  1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
  2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice;
  3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
  4. For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
  5. For the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals.

Security agencies: Include forces affiliated with the ministry of interior and the ministry of defence, and also include attacks by “pro or unknown civilians” in the presence of regular forces.

Private security: This includes any private security personnel, whether they are independent or affiliated with companies, and if the person being guarded, for example “a government official”, issued an order to commit the violation, the perpetrator will be considered “government officials”.

Judicial Bodies: Includes all civil and military judicial institutions.

Egyptian private channels: This includes the private channels that are based in Egypt.

Multiple: Includes several press or media organizations.

Not identified: The failure to identify the employer.

Arrest: The process of restricting the victim’s freedom, taking him to the police station, and filing a legal report.

Illegal detention: The process of restricting a victim’s freedom, taking him to a place of detention, and releasing him without filing any legal reports.

A case of violation: It is every violation that occurred to one person in a specific place and time. They are distinguished by four main variables: (the location of the violation, the timing of the violation, the type of violation, the victim), for example: if 3 journalists were arrested in a specific incident and one of them was beaten and another was verbally assaulted, 5 violations would be counted in that case (3 incidents of arrest of journalists, one incident of beating of a journalist, and one incident of verbal assault of a journalist).

In the case of any type of collective violation -such as prevention from coverage-it is considered a case of violation of one journalist -presumably- as it intended to collectively punish the identity of the journalist and not each individual journalist. Also because of the difficulty of determining the number of journalists and their identities, especially that these violations occur almost daily, in addition to the statistical problems as it will cause the number of victims to grow abnormally.

A journalist: Any person who has been subjected to a violation due to performing his journalistic work. AFTE provides evidence of his journalistic work such as the membership of the press syndicate or a work permit or assignment from a press organization, etc.

The press organization: Every press outlet that owns a website or publication.

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