The Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) has followed with great concern the attack by the Egyptian authorities on the press, on the background of the coverage of the presidential elections of 2018. On April 5th 2018, Dokki’s prosecutor ordered the detention of journalist and editor in chief of “Misr Al Arabiya” website, Adel Sabri, pending investigations. The prosecutor’s office has charged Sabri with: spreading false news, inciting to disrupt the constitution, joining a banned group and inciting demonstrations.
On Tuesday April 3rd, a police force stormed the headquarters of “Misr Al Arabiya” website. They searched the computers before arresting the editor in chief, and taking him to the Dokki police station. They closed the place and ordered all journalists to leave.
AFTE condemns the arrest of Adel Sabri, demanding his immediate release and the cessation of interference in the work of the press and the media. The association is also concerned about the continuing abuse of journalists and media professionals, especially in the light of suspicions concerning ownership transfer of a number of media organizations, and its association with the security services.
For its part, the official page of the Ministry of Interior published a statement issued by the general administration of the artistic works investigation unit, stating that it arrested the editor in chief of “Misr Al Arabiya” website for managing the site in violation of the law on regulating communications, publishing material on the internet without license, and violating the law on licenses of public shops and commercial establishments.
Fatma Seraj, a lawyer for AFTE, (she attended the investigations with Sabri) said, “It was reported that Adel Sabri is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and is wanted in State Security Case 441 for the year 2018. It was also said that he established “Misr Al Arabiya” website to broadcast news against the state, launch media campaigns to discredit the country domestically and internationally and to broadcast rumors and false news on topics such as high prices, presidential elections, and rights and freedoms”.
On April 1st, 2018, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation imposed LE 50,000 fine on the website as a result of a complaint filed by the president of the National Elections Commission after the website published a translated report by the New York Times. The report claims that some entities gave electoral bribes to citizens during the presidential elections.
“Misr Al Arabiya website is an Egyptian joint stock company, with all the licenses from the Ministry of Communications (concerned with managing websites), the Ministry of Culture (concerned with the content) and the Investment Authority (concerned with the management of joint stock companies),” Ahmed Abdel-Gawad, administrative director of the website, told AFTE.
It should be noted Abdel-Gawad was arrested on January 14th, 2016, and was released two days later, ensuring his place of residence. His arrest came after the office was stormed by a force of the Artistic Works Investigations Unit. The force inspected some devices, confiscated 8 computers, and considered some of the articles’ headlines as “news that harms national security.” But the prosecution dismissed the legal complaint filed by the Artistic Works police, considering that the charges against the website were “malicious”. It should be noted that the Egyptian authorities blocked “Misr Al Arabiya website on May 26, 2017, as part of the large campaign to block websites that began in May 2017 and continues till now. The number of blocked press and media websites alone amounts to 98 sites.
In the same context on April 4th, 2018, Al-Masry Al-Youm’s management dismissed editor in chief, Mohamed Al-Sayed Saleh, from post, while retaining him as an opinion writer with the same financial grade. This came on the background of a complaint filed by the National Elections Commission to the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, against the newspaper. The commission complained from the main headline in the issue of 29 March 2018, considering that it accuses the state of mobilizing voters. It also complained from what was published by the newspaper’s website, concerning the presidential candidate Moussa Mustafa Moussa’s voting in the presidential elections 2018.
The Supreme Council for Media Regulation decided to refer the editor in chief of Al-Masry Al-Youm and the writer of this news report to investigation by the journalists syndicate. The investigation is related to the news which accuses the state of mobilizing for the elections. The newspaper was forced to publish an apology to the National Elections Commission in the same place and in the same size, and to pay 150 thousand pounds as fine. The Attorney General Nabil Sadeq referred a complaint accusing Al-Masry Al-Youm of insulting Egyptians to the State Security Prosecution on Thursday, March 29, 2018.
Both the heads of the Journalists Syndicate and the Supreme Council for Media Regulation have denied their involvement in pressuring Al-Masry Al-Youm’s administration to fire its editor in chief. But the Syndicate did not play a role in supporting the editor in chief of “Misr Al Arabiya” website who was imprisoned and the editor in chief of Al-Masry Al-Youm, who was dismissed, in two incidents linked to press freedom. “The Syndicate’s role is very limited in defending press freedom,” Amr Badr, a member of the Syndicate’s board, told AFTE. “The majority of the members of the Syndicate’s board are not interested enough in the issue of press freedom, despite the recent attack on the press and journalists. As for the Supreme Council of Media Regulation its role is closer to imposing restrictions on the press and its freedom, which was clear in its decisions against Al-Masry Al-Youm and Misr Al Arabiya, although they did not commit any professional irregularities”, he added.
AFTE considers the imprisonment of the editor in chief of Misr Al Arabiya website, Adel Sabri, a dangerous development that threatens all journalists in Egypt, especially since he faces fabricated accusations aimed at repressing the website and preventing it from performing its work. This is understandable if we see it in a general context where the Egyptian authorities block the press and media sites, and with the increasing rate of imprisonment of journalists, according to the latest statistics by AFTE. It is also understandable in the light of the orientation reflected by the Public Prosecution’s statement on the publication of false news that harms the security of the country and the authorization of the Public Prosecution to track what is issued or broadcasted through various media and to take the necessary criminal procedures against it.