Egypt a "serious backslider" in press freedom argues, rights group

Alexandra Sandels
5 Min Read

CAIRO: In conjunction with World Press Day on May 3, New York-based press freedom group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) highlighted the occasion by issuing a report on “ten countries where press freedom has most deteriorated over the past five years.

Egypt was crowned one of the “10 worst backsliders of press freedom by the rights group along with Morocco, Pakistan, Thailand, Russia, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Gambia, Cuba, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“If you are a democratic government, you do not want to be on this list which names and shames those countries where press freedom is under threat. In this report, CPJ aims to highlight the gradual erosion of media freedom in countries such as Egypt and Morocco.

“We noticed that such deteriorations were not making international headlines, but were making it hard for local journalists in their work. This report brings these deteriorations to light, CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney stated in an audio report.

In the case of Egypt, CPJ emphasized that repeated assaults on reporters by government agents during demonstrations, the recent imprisonment of Internet blogger Kareem Amer, and numerous abductions and assaults of journalists illustrate an ongoing serious erosion of press freedom in the country.

According to the Cairo-based Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, more than 85 criminal cases against members of the press in Egypt were held between 2004 and 2006. This marks “an increase in judicial harassment in the country according to CPJ.

“What’s particularly striking about this report is that many of these countries are democracies and allies of the United States, Mahoney pointed out.

In recent times, the Egyptian authorities have been subject to strong criticism from international rights groups and even foreign governments for its alleged crackdowns on freedom of expression.

In December, press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) added Egypt to its list of “the world’s 13 worst Internet enemies due to alleged government censorship of Internet sites and repeated intimidation and arrests of Internet bloggers.

CPJ’s report is based on research in categories measuring press conditions such as government censorship, judicial harassment, criminal libel prosecutions, journalist deaths, physical attacks on the press, journalist imprisonments, and threats against the press.

The rights group stresses that “violent attacks go unpunished in many of the backslider countries with more than eight journalists slain in Pakistan in the last five years and 11 journalists murdered in Russia over the same period. In the case of Russia, none of the murders have been solved.

Furthermore, CPJ emphasizes the use of restrictive legislation in several countries including Thailand, where the new military junta has issued broad censorship orders for broadcast outlets.

In the Gambia, authorities recently shut down a leading independent newspaper. Whilst in Russia, the president signed a law equating critical coverage with “extremism, CPJ said.

Furthermore, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commemorated World Press Day with a public statement in which he talked of the importance of member states to commit to the freedom of opinion and expression, as enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Human Rights Declaration.

Ki-moon also stated his concerns on the deterioration of press freedom by stating that “journalists themselves have become targets in their aim of shedding light on the plight of others. Over the past year, more than 150 media professionals have lost their lives in the line of duty. Attacks on freedom of press are attacks against international law, against humanity, against freedom itself – against everything the United Nations stands for.

“A free, secure, and independent press is among the very foundations of democracy and peace. Governments, international organizations, the media and society all have a role to play in upholding those foundations. On World Press Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to this mission, Ki-moon urged.

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