Tough measures used to gag media in run-up to elections

Published on 25 November 2010
Reporters Without Borders condemns an increase in measures to control news and information and suppress freedom of expression in the run-up to the parliamentary elections scheduled for 28 November. The measures, including practices regarded as a thing of the past, constitute a major step backwards after the progress seen in recent years. We fear even more repression in the run-up to the presidential election due to be held next year.
Forced disappearance
Reporters Without Borders is very worried about what may have happened to Attia Mohamed Mahmoud Abu-l-Ela, a freelance journalist employed by the Al Jazeera bureau in Cairo, who covered the use of violence by police and supporters of the ruling National Democratic Party against opposition politicians and their supporters at an election rally in Al-Sharqeya province on 20 November.
Pursued by the police, Abu-l-Ela initially managed to get away but was arrested him at his home in the village El-Salam the following morning. No arrest order was shown by the police, who broke furniture while searching his home and confiscated journalistic equipment.
There has been no news of him since then. Reporters Without Borders calls for his immediate release.
Trumped-up charge
Reporters Without Borders also reiterates its call for the immediate release of Youssef Shaaban, an Alexandria-based reporter for the independent online newspaper Al-Badil who was arrested while covering a demonstration on 20 November by residents of the Alexandria neighbourhood of Abu Suleiman, who were protesting against plans for their eviction.
Shaaban, who is also a human rights activist, was arrested when he photographed a policeman beating protesters, Reporters Without Borders has learned. He was taken to a police station in the Alexandria district of Raml, where intelligence officers charged him with drug trafficking (,38871.html).
His case was immediately sent to the prosecutor’s office, which had him detained for an additional four days, supposedly for the purposes of further investigation. Since then, a further two-week extension to his detention has been ordered. Meanwhile Shaaban has still not been able to talk to his lawyers.
Reporters Without Borders fears that he is being mistreated. The drug charge was clearly fabricated with the aim of silencing a journalist known for his outspoken reporting just a few days ahead of the parliamentary elections. This use of Tunisian-style methods to gag the media is very disturbing.
Intimidation of journalists covering opposition campaign
The government’s campaign of harassment and intimidation of the Muslim Brotherhood in advance of the elections has also affected journalists covering this opposition party’s election campaign.
Ashraf Khalil, a reporter for the English-language edition of the daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, was intercepted and threatened by state security police on 22 November after interviewing Mohammed Beltagui, a Muslim Brotherhood candidate for reelection as parliamentary representative of Shubra Al-Kheima, a district to the north of Cairo.
As Khalil and a fellow-journalist left the district in a taxi, they were stopped by state security police. “They told us to get out of the taxi and demanded our identity papers and press cards,” Khalil told Reporters Without Borders. “In an aggressive tone, they also asked us for our authorization to work as journalists in this neighbourhood. I repeatedly explained that my press card had been issued by the ministry of communication and information.
“We quickly realized that our official press cards meant nothing to these people. We spent more than half an hour like this, standing in a dark street surrounded by a dozen men in uniform who kept repeating that they were just following orders without bothering to tell us what those orders were.”
Increased government control over broadcast media
Reporters Without Borders condemns regulations issued at the start of November designed to restrict live TV broadcasts. According to the latest communication and information ministry provisions, any media company wanting to do live broadcasting must obtain a permit from an official and pay 5,000 dollars (3,730 euros). But the ministry did not identify the official, specify how long the permit will be valid, or explain how to renew it.
At the same time, many satellite TV broadcasters have received letters from the ministry ordering them to do all their live broadcasting from studios in 6th of October City, a satellite city 30 km southeast of Cairo.
The authorities also launched a campaign on 11 October to control SMS messaging. Companies that send large amounts of SMS messages to mobile phones must now obtain a licence from the Telecommunications Regulation Authority. Other SMS content suppliers including political parties and news services must do the same. The licences can cost up to 88,000 dollars (65,670 euros).
TV broadcasting closures, dismissals
On 19 October, the communication and information ministry dropped many privately-owned TV stations from the government-controlled TV satellite operator Nilesat and threatened others with the same measure. Two TV presenters, Alaa Sadeq and Ibrahim Eissa, were dropped at the start of October after criticising the authorities.