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May 24, 2013

Egyptian Government Intensifies Attacks on Media

Washington, D.C. – Egyptian journalists, bloggers, and others who criticize President Morsi and his government today face an increased likelihood of being investigated and harassed for exercising their freedom of expression, according to a report released today by Human Rights First. This new report draws on dozens of interviews with bloggers, journalists, activists, and NGOs conducted earlier this month by Human Rights First and it also contains recommendations for the U.S. government on ways to support a free and independent media in Egypt.

“The Egyptian government is assaulting civil society on a number of fronts, including through proposed laws to restrict NGOs and ongoing efforts to silence media critics,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley, who recently returned from Egypt and is author of today’s report, Egypt: Attacks on the Media. “In Cairo, I heard many examples of how ‘lawfare’ in being waged against journalists and others through judicial harassment and even physical assault.”

According to today’s report, journalists and others are who criticize the government are increasingly likely to be investigated by the public prosecutor.Egypt: Attacks on the Media also includes details about physical attacks on journalists, their lack of access to data,  and media ownership. Dooley notes that a free, responsible press operating in an open and transparent environment was among the early hopes of the Egyptian revolution. Overregulation and intimidation of the press had been the hallmarks of the Mubarak era. A key indicator of democratic progress in Egyptian would be the existence of media whose freedom of expression is respected, promoted, and guaranteed. Today’s report find that this is yet to be achieved under the Morsi government.

For example, in perhaps one of the highest profile cases in recent months, television satirist Bassem Youssef was arrested last month for insulting the presidency and Islam. He told Dooley, “Here the authorities exploit people’s ignorance, capitalize on people’s illiteracy. This isn’t a fight between seculars and Muslims, but between Muslims like me who don’t believe religion is a tool for tyranny and those who want to use it for political gain.”

Another case featured in the report is that of Ahmed Anwar, who faces charges stemming from a video he made that mocks dancing policemen. The charges could send Anwar, who is now in hiding, to jail for three years. During their recent meeting, Anwar told Dooley, “The U.S. government should speak out against these cases on denying freedom of expression. They gave so much public support to [President] Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood that when the authorities bring these sorts of cases the U.S. should speak out about it.”

Egypt: Attacks on the Media details a number of steps the United States should take to support the development of a free press in Egypt. Among its key recommendations are the following:

  • The U.S. government should continue to speak out publicly about physical and judicial attacks on media personnel in order to support journalists and others under threat.
  • Senior U.S. officials in Egypt should issue statements and hold events with other likeminded governments on media freedoms aimed to counter the idea that the United States is undermining Egyptian sovereignty but rather upholding universal principles.
  • The U.S. government, working with other likeminded governments and Egyptian civil society, should urge that any new Egyptian law on the freedom of information be aligned with international standards and practice.
  • The U.S. government should translate into Arabic––and publicize and promote in Egypt––the State Department’s newly released policy on engaging with human rights defenders worldwide, recognizing that journalists and other media figures are often human rights defenders.
    • If wanted by journalists and other media figures at risk, U.S. officials should visit them in their homes and places of work.
    • If wanted by journalists and other media figures at risk, U.S. officials should observe their court hearings.
  • The U.S government should make clear to the Egyptian public and government why it wants to engage with journalists and other media figures in Egypt, and make clear it does this as a matter of course in many other countries.
  • The U.S. embassy should coordinate with other embassies to offer and deliver training to journalists and media figures in Egypt and continue to offer training programs to journalists at all stages of their careers.
  • The U.S. government should use discussions around current and future military aid to Egypt to urge that parts of the military budget have greater transparency to the public and the media to promote a culture of openness and transparency of military operations and expenditure.
  • The U.S. government should use discussions around current and future military aid to Egypt to raise the issue of restrictive reporting on military issues, including notorious law 313, which severely limits reporting on military issues.
  • The U.S. government should use discussions around current and future military aid to Egypt to urge that the onus be on the Egyptian military to explain what information should be kept from the public and the media.

“The United States has made some welcome statements lately about the need to protect journalists’ right to free expression, but it should be clear in all of its statements that a free and independent media is under threat from the government in Egypt. It should do more to help the Egyptian media,” said Dooley. “It should use its relationship with the Egyptian military to press it to make some of its budget and operations transparent, to dispel some of the mystery around the military. Attacks on the Egyptian media give the U.S. a real opportunity to take a public stand for universal values of freedom of expression.”

Today’s new report follows a series of analysis from Human Rights first on Egypt this year, including in March 2013 a report titled Egypt’s Human Rights Crisis Deepens and a December 2012 blueprint, How to Make Change in Egypt a Human Rights Success Story.

To speak with Dooley or for more information about today’s report, please contact Brenda Bowser Soder at bowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3323.