Journalists under continued attack in Egypt

Journalists under continued attack in Egypt
Comment: Human rights groups continue to protest against the erosion of press freedom.
3 min read
05 May, 2015
'Journalism is not a crime': Reporters face a tough working environment [Getty]

On World Press Freedom Day, May 3, the international community should have turned the spotlight on Egypt.

The state of press freedom is in freefall here - journalists are confronted with arbitrary arrest, as well as detention without charge.

Amnesty International released a statement marking World Press Freedom Day, saying that journalists continue to be under attack in Egypt, estimating at least 18 journalists were being detained by Cairo.

What is particularly alarming is the fact that, since June 2013, at least six journalists have been killed while covering protests. The deaths were results of the action undertaken by security forces in clashes with demonstrators. 

The spokesman for the Egyptian foreign ministry dismissed Amnesty's accusations as "politicized nonsense" and stated that journalists were not being targeted.

Nevertheless, Egypt ranks 158 of 180 countries included in the World Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters without Borders. Cairo is closely followed by Pakistan and Kazakhstan.

The index reflects the situation of journalists, media outlets and netizens in each country. The index is comprised of seven indicators: Pluralism, Media Independence, Environment and self-censorship, Legislative Framework, Transparency, Infrastructure and Abuse.

According to the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, activists and journalists still face persecution under the 2013 Protest Law.

The Lawyers for Democracy Initiative meanwhile recorded 98 violations against the freedom of press, media and creativity in 2014. Most came in the form of physical attacks, bans on coverage, detention and arrest - as well as censorship, publication bans and news-stand confiscations.

     I am a photojournalist, not a criminal.
- Mohammad Abu Zeid, from prison

Critical state

Ten journalists have been killed in Egypt since February 2011, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists. 

The group has called on President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to adopt a more open press climate. Although the Committee welcomed the release on bail of two Al-Jazeera journalists, it remained critical of the situation and called Egypt "one of the leading jailers of journalists".

Journalists at the edge

While the arrests of three Al-Jazeera Journalists - Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste - unleashed an international public outcry, many journalists detained or arrested in Egypt do not get this kind of worldwide attention.

A journalist on Egyptian daily El-Dostor has been arrested - and three laptops and mobile phones were confiscated - reported Ahram Online on Press Freedom Day.

Amnesty International reported further attacks against journalists. Five journalists on the daily Al Masry Al Youm face criminal investigation after publishing an article on corruption and human rights violations by security forces.

The former head of the Youm7 online news outlet and a member of Egypt's Press Syndicate was arrested in November 2014 at Cairo airport - and there are many more cases.

Conditions in Egypt's prisons have been described as "highly problematic". 

"I share a cell that measures three by four metres with 12 political prisoners. We have no access to sun or fresh air for days or weeks at a time," said Mahmoud Abu Zeid, a photojournalist also known as Shawkan, in a letter published by Amnesty International.

"I am a photojournalist, not a criminal. My indefinite detention is psychologically unbearable. Not even animals would survive in these conditions."

Since his arrest - documenting the dispersal of the infamous Rabaa al-Adawiya protest, in which Human Rights Watch estimates that more then 1,000 people were killed, Abu Zeid spent more than 500 days in prison. 

Another of Abu Zeid's prison letters was published on Deutsche Welle: "Where are the world leaders who demonstrated in Paris in protest against the killing of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, persistently demanding the right of freedom of expression and freedom of the press?"