General Prosecutor Hisham Barakat forced a media gag Wednesday on the incident that left four people killed on the Matruh-Alamein road along the North Coast.
“A media gag is forced if the national security is threatened”, said political activist George Ishaq.
The Tuesday attack also left a police officer injured after security forces were pursuing a vehicle loaded with weapons and explosives on the coastal road in response to intelligence it received that armed assailants were in the area.
Ishaq said that what happened was a “big incident with several sides”, and that there is a possibility that “innocent people were in the area”.
Legally, the general prosecutor has the right to impose a media gag when there is a threat to the general welfare, and the sovereignty of investigations and their procedures, explained lawyer Gamil Saeed.
Whether or not those threats are present in Tuesday’s incident, “is up to the general prosecutor to decide,” Saeed said.
The punishment for violating the media gag is imprisonment. “The prosecution would arrest [violators],” Ishaq said.
Gamila Ismail, political activist and former parliamentary candidate, said that the application of a media gag nowadays has become an action that raises doubts and questions. Mostly the media gag has been happening during the days of former president Hosni Mubarak and Abdel Maguid Mahmoud, former prosecutor general.
Ismail noted that after the 25 January Revolution, the Egyptians were expecting that “the application of media gag would be gone with no return”. On the contrary, the media gag has been on the rise after the revolution.
Previously the reasons for applying the media gag were because it was linked to the army, the Copts or sectarian strife. Now it has been on the rise without justifications for applying it, she said.
The general prosecutor ordered a gag on ousted president Mohammed Morsi’s espionage trial in 2013. Mubarak’s “trial of the century” had had a media gag order in 2011, and in 2008, a media gag was imposed on the case that involves famous businessman Hisham Talaat Mostafa, who was convicted of murdering celebrity Suzan Tamim.
Ismail stressed that there shouldn’t be any restrictions imposed on journalism or on the right for people to know and freedom of inquiry, which are considered fundamental rights that should be granted for the citizens.
Nowadays media has become citizen-oriented as everyone can post online videos, comment on political events on social networks and websites, so people will eventually know what is actually going on, said Ismail.