The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) published a report Monday on the status of media and press freedoms during President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s first year in office.
This is the first annual report to be published by the commission.
The report, entitled “The Forbidden Right”, documented 658 violations against journalists, with 258 instances of preventing journalists from performing their duty, the most recurrent violation during that year.
The report further documented 138 cases of physical assault, 118 cases of detention and suspension, 45 cases of confiscating and breaking equipment, and 20 cases of verbal assault.
The Ministry of Interior is responsible for most of the violations against journalists, with 237 documented violations. The report also mentions citizens’ contribution to violations, ranging from verbal assault, to physical assault and damaging journalists’ equipment.
The ECRF report outlined the contrast between the attention given by Al-Sisi to improve the situation of journalists through meetings conducted with journalists and media personnel, and the large number of violations committed by the police, military and other governmental entities against journalists.
“The first two months of Al-Sisi’s second year in office [June and July 2015] has witnessed an increase in the rate of arrests compared to the same duration during the first year in office,” the report stated. There is also an expansion in the list of journalists under pre-trial detention.
Among the obstacles faced by journalists in Egypt is the constant harassment by security forces as well as some citizens. The reported added that the Press Syndicate has also proven itself unable to take timely action to protect arrested journalists, and that there was also an absence of legislation granting complete protection for journalists.
The ECRF provided some recommendations for improving journalists’ situation, including: issuing legislation granting protection for journalists while on duty; raising awareness among journalists regarding their rights and how to deal with arrests; as well as raising awareness in society as a whole regarding the role of journalists.
A prison census conducted by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in June found that Egyptian authorities were holding at least 18 journalists behind bars in relation to their reporting. The CPJ stated that this figure is the highest in the country since it began documenting data on imprisoned journalists in 1990.
Of the 18 journalists currently imprisoned, one-third have been handed life-sentences. Most are accused of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, as “the government abuses the anti-terrorism law”, the organisation that works to safeguard journalists said.
The arrested journalists include Mahmoud Abou Zeid, or “Shawkan”, a freelance photojournalist arrested during the Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in dispersal of August 2013, and who has been detained for two years without charges.
Abdullah Al-Fakharany, Samhi Mostafa, and Mohamed Adly, who worked for Rassd and Amgad TV, were all arrested on 25 August 2013, and later sentenced to life in prison.
In a recent development, the Press Syndicate’s council expressed concern over articles related to the press in the expected new terrorism law.
The proposed law stipulates that publishing news or information on terrorist attacks that conflicts with official statements would be a crime punishable by a minimum of two years imprisonment.