No safe space for journalists in Egypt: Amnesty
Amnesty International has accused Egypt of muzzling and intimidating journalists, saying there is no safe haven for press to criticize the country’s authorities, with scores of media workers languishing in jail or facing criminal charges.
The human rights group said in a report published on its website on Sunday that Egypt is using courts and jail to intimidate journalists who are “challenging the authorities’ political narrative and rights records.”
The group said since Mohamed Morsi was ousted as president in July 2013 in a coup led by former army chief and current president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, Egyptian authorities have “rounded up” critical and opposition-linked journalists.
According to Amnesty, detained journalists have faced “trumped-up charges of broadcasting ‘false news, information or rumors’, as well as sedition and incitement to violence.”
Amnesty warned that in Egypt there is at present “no safe space for a journalist or blogger in Egypt to criticize the authorities’ political or human rights records, or to peacefully express their opposition to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government.”
A number of journalists listen to their verdicts from inside a cage in an Egyptian court. (File photo)
The group said its research shows at least 18 journalists and other media workers are currently incarcerated in Egypt, including photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, known as Shawkan, who has been detained for over 600 days without formal charge or trial.
In addition, dozens of other journalists have been detained and released only after questioning by prosecutors and the National Security Agency.
A majority of those arrested had to post bail before being released and face ongoing criminal probes, a policy “apparently aimed at intimidating or silencing them.”
According to statements by defense lawyers to Amnesty, there was no incriminating evidence against their accused clients.
The lawyers added that in most cases courts convicted media workers on the testimonies and investigations of Egypt’s security forces, including the National Security Agency and officers at the Criminal Investigations Department.
Egyptian authorities have defended the crackdown on journalists, claiming they only target those “who have incited violence or spread ‘false information,’” however, the Amnesty research has not found any credible evidence to support the statement.
The human rights group called on Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all media workers who have been detained “solely for their journalistic work” and those who have been detained on charges of “spreading false news, information or rumors.”
The report is the latest criticism by rights groups against Sisi’s government for launching a heavy-handed crackdown on journalists and stifling freedom of speech in the Arab country.