The Freedoms Committee of Egypt’s Press Syndicate issued Sunday its first annual report on the conditions of journalists during the past year, highlighting the harsh work conditions and daily violations committed against reporters and workers in the field.
“To begin with, we have been able to document 782 cases of violations against journalists in 2015 by following up with journalists daily. This means that on a daily basis, we have on average one to two violations against journalists in Egypt. We hope that any state institution can counter those numbers or respond to them,” head of the Freedoms’ Committee Khaled El-Balshy said.
At the top of those infringements against journalists, El-Balshy highlighted numerous instances of detention and imprisonment. He highlighted the responsibility of the state’s executive authority for the safety of journalists as well as their accountability for the violations.
“More than 50% of the violations are committed by the Ministry of Interior. I cannot count the complaints filed to the ministry or to the Prosecutor General regarding our detained colleagues. This is in addition to many promises we had confirmed with the presidency about pardoning some of the journalists in jail. Therefore, there is no doubt that the regime in place is responsible for all of that,” El-Balshy said.
According to the Freedoms Committee’s report, the issue does not only concern imprisoned journalists since others face this risk through court sentences issued in absentia. An estimated 42 journalists are either in detention or at risk of being detained.
They include 20 cases related to the practice of the journalism profession, seven in which prison sentences were issued in absentia, and eight journalists under investigations following reports filed by Minister of Justice Ahmed El-Zind.
El-Balshy provided other examples of violations against journalists, such as the censorship of articles, newspaper, halting the printing of some newspapers, security raids on media, and media gags imposed by the Prosecutor General in unprecedented numbers in 2015.
Human rights’ lawyer and manager of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) Gamal Eid also spoke at the press conference, providing a human rights’ perspective to freedom of speech.
According to Eid, any person working in the media field is entitled to freedom of speech. “As such, any arrested journalist is not required to prove his profession to the authorities,” he said.
Eid blamed the judicial institution, which he referred to as “flawed”. “The judicial system is one of the reasons behind the violations against journalists and obvious violations of constitutional guarantees to freedom of expression. Moreover all journalists imprisoned without fair trial are prisoners of conscience,” he said.
Eid said considering proportion of the number of detained journalists in Egypt in relation to its population, compared to the number of jailed journalists in China in proportion with its population, Egypt tops the two, with highest rate of journalists detained.
Eid was banned from travelling from Cairo to Athens on Thursday, after security officials informed him that a travel ban had been ordered against him, preventing him from leaving the country, according to local media reports.
Representatives of the Journalists Against Torture Observatory (JATO), Association of the Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), and the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) attended court sessions with the lawyers handling cases of detained journalists.
The report highlighted different aspects of journalism in Egypt, including the legislative framework organising their work, details of the arrested and detained journalists, following up on their conditions inside prisons, and different aspects of the state crackdown on journalists.
Both El-Balshy and Eid further criticised claims by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi that Egypt is witnessing an unprecedented era of freedom of speech. “I believe a moment of conscience is needed there,” Eid said.“We are begging for this freedom, in vain,” El-Balshy said.