A Tuesday statement released by press freedom watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has urged Egypt’s president-elect Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to confront issues facing the media in the country and to release all jailed journalists.
The statement, written by CPJ Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch, follows a letter addressed to Al-Sisi and presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahy sent before the election in which the CPJ asked the candidates to investigate the deaths of all journalists killed in the line of duty since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak, and to free all journalists currently in detainment.
“Egypt is at its lowest point for journalists,” said CPJ spokeswoman Shaimaa Abulkhair, citing rising incidents of arrest, detainment and intimidation aimed at journalists from state security forces.
Also troubling, said Abulkhair, was an early May meeting in which Al-Sisi met with the editors of Egypt’s major news papers and compelled them to not push for additional media freedoms, play down corruption, and concentrate on “the strategic goal” of “preserving the Egyptian state”.
“As Egypt’s newly elected president, Al-Sisi is in a unique position to shape Egypt’s future,” read the Tuesday statement. “Al-Sisi’s backers hoped the vote would legitimise a new government and mend strained international relations by proving that Egypt is on the path of reform.”
Ten journalists have been killed while working in Egypt since the January 2011 toppling of Mubarak, with six deaths since the former president Mohamed Morsi was removed by the military last July.
There are currently 16 journalists detained in Egyptian prisons. Three journalists from Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera have been detained since 29 December, and are currently on trial facing charges of spreading false news to tarnish Egypt’s reputation and “creating a terrorist media network”. They have repeatedly been denied bail, and their trial has been adjourned or postponed 10 times since it began mid-February.
In a separate incident, Al Jazeera Arabic journalist Abdullah Elshamy was arrested over nine months ago at the violent clearing of the pro-Mohamed Morsi sit-in at Rabaa El-Adaweya Mosque. He has yet to be brought up on formal charges. Elshamy has been on hunger strike for 135 days, and recent medical tests revealed that his health is in critical condition.
Adopted in January of this year, Article 70 of Egypt’s constitution guarantees the freedom of the press, while Article 71 prohibits government censorship of newspapers and media outlets except in “time of war or general mobilisation”.