The number of detained journalists in Egypt is currently the highest on record since 1990, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) announced Thursday after it released its new census of imprisoned journalists in Egypt.
Of the 18 journalists currently imprisoned, one-third have been handed life-sentences. Most are accused of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, as “the government abuses the anti-terrorism law”, the organisation that works to safeguard journalists said.
Many of the journalists arrested were beaten, abused, taken from their homes, and sometimes forcibly disappeared, with their families and lawyers remaining ignorant of their whereabouts.
Journalists face charges ranging from inciting violence to joining illegal protests and groups. More than half of the journalists in the census work for online platforms, the group said. It added that this indicates that the internet, previously considered a place of free speech and independent reporting, is now “increasingly dangerous”.
“Under the cover of anti-terrorism measures, the government of [President] Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is using harsh methods to crush critical voices,” Sherif Mansour, the CPJ’s programme coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, said.
The report stated that in August 2013, one month after the military ouster of the former president Mohamed Morsi, Ahmed Al-Mossallamany, the spokesperson for the interim president told the CPJ: “We are not going to replace Islamist fascism with a civil one.” He added that freedom of press would be improved.
Two years later, the CPJ said, “journalists face unprecedented threats in President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s Egypt”.
The arrested journalists include Mahmoud Abou Zeid,or “Shawkan”, a freelance photographer arrested during the Rabaa Al-Adaweya massacre of August 2013 and detained for two years without charges.
Abdullah Al-Fakharany, Samhi Mostafa, and Mohamed Adly, who worked for Rassd and Amgad TV, were all arrested on 25 August 2013, and later sentenced to life in prison. In a letter smuggled out of prison on World Press Freedom day, Al-Fakharany described abuse in prison.
In addition, Saeed Abuhaj, who worked for the Sinai media centre, has also been imprisoned since November 2013. His coverage included the clashes between protesters and security forces in Sinai, Muslim Brotherhood meetings, and socioeconomic issues in the peninsula.
Because of Egypt’s heavy restrictions on journalists and press freedom, places like Sinai are underreported. A veteran reporter told CPJ: “Journalism is over in Sinai…the only reporting we can do is [to] tell the army’s story. Anything else is a prison wish.”