The Press Syndicate’s freedom’s committee expressed its concerns on Sunday over the return of press censorship that threatens press freedom in Egypt and violates the constitution.
The committee issued a statement condemning “the phenomenon of pulling newspapers from print and interfering in content with elimination and change through unknown censorship authorities”.
The statement refers to two incidents that occurred on Saturday, as an issue of the Al-Mesryoon newspaper was pulled from print over critical content while an issue of Al-Sabah newspaper was subject to censorship over an opinion piece that criticised a party leader who is rumoured to be close to the president.
Al-Mesryoon’s issue featured an opinion piece criticising President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s religious reform rhetoric. It also contained a report on a delayed visit of Al-Sisi to the UK, which claimed a connection to attempts to legally prosecute Al-Sisi in the UK.
The newspaper had to change the two pieces to end a halt in printing that lasted for almost four hours, according to its CEO Gamal Sultan.
“The committee noticed that all the articles the different newspapers’ editors said they were pulled from print are related to high profile state leadership, which indicates that there is a tendency to enforce redlines to not discuss certain persons,” the committee’s statement read.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) also condemned the suspension of two newspapers’ print, expressing concerns over “the deterioration of Egyptian press due to the authorities’ hostility to the press freedom, particularly they waste the basic rights and freedoms, and the press freedom tops them”.
The rights NGO highlighted that the incidents came a week after the confiscation of a Sawt Al-Omma newspaper issue that contained reports on the health condition of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s mother, as well as reports on a corrupt network of Mubarak-era figures.
“The return of newspapers’ confiscation in such an escalating manner, in addition to holding more than 60 journalists on remand, as well as the recently-passed Anti-Terror Act, is establishing the Egyptian authorities’ hostility to the right to free expression, and the press freedom is in the heart of it. Into the bargain, the authorities are endeavouring to curb democracy in Egypt,” ANHRI said.
The new anti-terrorism law was signed and passed by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi early this month despite previous controversy over some of its articles.
Article 35 of the law considers media reports on terrorism and counter-terrorism operations that contradicts the Ministry of Defence statements on them a felony of “promoting false news”, subject to a fine of between EGP 200,000 and EGP 500,000.
The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) joined the denouncement of censorship and made an overview to the constitution’s articles and laws that protect press freedom.
Article 71 of the constitution reads: “It is forbidden to in any way censor newspapers and Egyptian journals or media. It is also forbidden to confiscate newspapers, suspend them or to close them. However, they may be censored at times of war or public mobilisation.”
AFTE said that the constitution articles that defend press freedom are largely suspended and violated by “unknown security authorities” that practices all the aforementioned censorship forms and makes censorship decision “as if it is the above constitution and law”.