Censorship, lawsuits, attacks and confiscation of equipments, prevention from doing their jobs, arbitrary detention, prolonged temporary imprisonment and the non translation of constitutional articles into laws protecting press freedom are part of the endless hindrances facing journalists in Egypt.
“Freedom of expression is not only for journalists and the media, it is every citizen’s right,” said Yehia Qallash, head of the Press Syndicate during a press conference marking World Press Freedom Day.
The Press Syndicate decided the day will be dedicated to the remembrance of all assaulted journalists, those who were killed, those who were arrested, and those who continue to be in prison.
“As we celebrate our freedom today, the Ministry of Interior is slapping us, journalists, on the face,” said syndicate member Khaled El-Balshy at the conference’s opening.
This comes as three journalists were recently arrested, including Ahmed Kaoud who was taken from his house in Beheira in a night-time raid. He is currently facing accusations of illegal protesting, despite being at home.
Most physical violations against journalists are carried out by security forces but there are also attempts to obstruct information freedom by armed groups, such as through attacks on the Media Production City.
The Press Syndicate’s Freedoms Committee worked with civil society organisations tracing freedom of the press, court cases against journalists and retribution over killed journalists. It issued a report concerning the first months of 2015, in which they conclude that the situation of press freedom has worsened.
The means of repressing freedom vary between silencing voices, storming journalists’ houses, and severe imprisonment sentences. The report traced a total of 126 violations against journalists between January and March.
According to the numbers, digital journalists come on top of the list of those facing assaults, followed by reporters working for privately-owned newspapers. Those working for state newspapers are the least likely to face restrictions or face physical violence.
Meanwhile, the main perpetuators of those violations are the police, followed by government institutions, then citizens, whether they are undercover agents or other opposition groups.
The case of detained photojournalist Ahmed Gamal Ziada was also mentioned during the conference, as journalists were angry that he remains behind bars despite over 400 days of imprisonment and his acquittal last week.
The day was also an occasion to share the message of detained photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid “Shawkan”, who has been behind bars without trial for over 600 days, and who has demanded media pressure for his release.
Previously detained Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy, who is still facing trial, organised a rally in Vancouver, Canada, to advocate against the imprisonment of journalists.
According to member of the syndicate’s Freedoms Committee Mohamed Abdel Qodous, there are over 30 detained journalists, including eight who are members of the Press Syndicate.
“This syndicate has been active for more than 70 years and this is the worst time for journalists’ arrests,” Abdel Qodous said.
Journalist Hassan El-Qabany has been in temporary detention for over 100 days now. “We don’t know what he is accused of,” said his wife, who spoke at the conference Sunday. “There has been no trial process so far and my husband’s arrest was inhumane, as well as being subject to assault in prison.”
The syndicate continues in its efforts to negotiate with the Ministry of Interior to gain guarantees of protection for reporters on the ground and prevent violations against journalists. Sayed Abou Zeid, lawyer for the Press Syndicate, also stressed the importance that journalists are aware of their rights.
“Journalists must ask for our assistance before giving any statements in case of arrest,” Abou Zeid stated.
Journalists and civil society lawyers who participated in the conference also shed light on other challenges facing journalists. This included their economic and social rights, as media institutions manipulate the conditions of their hiring, leaving them at risk of arbitrary firing.
The future of Egypt’s press freedom relies heavily on the Press Syndicate’s ability to bring forward legal reforms in accordance with the constitutional guarantees of free media and right to information access.