Freedom of the Press
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Though journalists increasingly cross the "red lines" that previously constrained the media, press freedom in Egypt continues to suffer from repressive laws and extralegal intimidation of journalists. The Emergency Law, Press Law, Publications Law, and penal code regulate the press. The penal code provides for fines and imprisonment for criticism of the president, members of government, or foreign heads of state or for diffusing news "liable...to cause harm and damage to public security." According to the 1996 Press Law, which was written after the opposition newspaper Al-Sha'ab published articles on official corruption, the government can impose fines and prison terms on journalists convicted of libel. On April 17, a Cairo criminal court sentenced three journalists for the independent daily Al-Misry al-Youm-Alaa' al-Ghatrifi, Youssef al-Oumi, and Abd al-Nasser al-Zuhairi -to a year in prison and imposed fines of LE 10,000 (US$1,740) each for "defaming a public employee" in connection with a story claiming that authorities had searched the housing minister's office. The journalists appealed the sentence, and the case was still open at the end of 2005. No substantive progress has been made on President Hosni Mubarak's 2004 promises to review existing legislation affecting the press, a hollow promise repeated this year in December. Indeed, in June 2005 the Parliament amended the 1956 Law on Political Rights to impose prison sentences and fines on journalists who published "false information" about the elections or the behavior or morals of the candidates-five were sentenced to imprisonment during the year.
Journalists are frequently subject to violence and harassment. On May 13, security forces arrested nine journalists and technicians for Al-Jazeera as they covered a special meeting of the Judges' Club, which was then in a confrontation with the ruling National Democratic Party over the conditions under which they would monitor the September presidential elections. Later that month, security officers and armed men apparently acting under the direction of the security forces assaulted 15 journalists covering protests against a constitutional amendment governing the conduct of the presidential elections. Female reporters were sexually assaulted. Journalists who filed complaints said security officers attempted to intimidate them into dropping the complaints. No charges had been filed for the assaults by the end of 2005.
More than 50 journalists complained that security and police officers beat them, detained them briefly, or confiscated their cameras as they attempted to cover voting irregularities in the November parliamentary elections. In the eastern Al-Sharqiya governorate, photographer Ahmed Shaker was doused in gasoline and told he would be set on fire if he did not leave immediately. On November 17, as polls closed in the first round of voting, two men beat Al-Jazeera talk show host Ahmed Mansour as he left his office. Mansour had recently interviewed a judge about allegations of electoral fraud and discussed the rise of Egypt's banned Muslim Brotherhood on his program, "Without Borders," and was about to interview Noaman Gomaa, then leader of the opposition party Wafd. Mansour appeared on the show, bruised and ruffled from the attack, and called on the interior minister to bring the assailants to justice. However, his attackers were never charged.
There are more than 500 newspapers, magazines, journals, and other periodicals in Egypt, but this apparent diversity disguises the government's role as media owner and sponsor. The government owns shares in Egypt's three largest newspapers, whose editors are appointed by the president. Opposition parties may form their own newspapers, and in recent years the Shura Council-one-third of whose members are appointed by the president-has granted licenses to the Al-Ghad and Al-Karama parties to publish eponymous weekly newspapers. The council likewise allowed controversial newsmen and former colleagues Ibrahim Eissa and Adel Hammouda to register the independent weeklies Ad-Dostour and Al-Fajr, respectively. Ad-Dostour in particular, whose license was previously revoked in 1998, quickly gained a large following for boldly crossing the old "red lines." The Ministry of Information controls content in the state-owned broadcast media. Privately owned domestic broadcasters are not allowed to air news bulletins and so focus on music and entertainment. However, Egypt permits the establishment of locally based private satellite television stations, and the government does not block foreign satellite channels. As local, government-controlled channels have lost ground to pan-Arab satellite networks such as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, they have improved their production values, hired journalists away from the satellite networks, and begun featuring talk shows that deal with more sensitive topics.
Thanks in large part to governmental efforts to aggressively promote internet use, the number of Egyptians with access to the internet has more than quadrupled over the past five years but still remains at less than 6 percent of the population. The Egyptian government does not engage in widespread online censorship, and online writers regularly criticize the government and launch concerted campaigns for political change. The censorship of websites associated with the Muslim Brotherhood was lifted in November 2005. However, bloggers were arrested, detained without charge, and harassed by state security agents. On October 26, plainclothes security agents arrested Alexandrian student of Islamic law and blogger Abd al-Karim Suleiman and detained him without charge for 18 days. In December, more than 50 soldiers and plainclothes security agents raided online editor Ahmad Abd-Allah's house, arrested him, and confiscated his papers, books, and hard drives. Abd-Allah said that during his interrogation, he was repeatedly pressured to close his website. He was released without charge several weeks later on condition that he maintains regular contact with state security.