Reporters Without Borders condemns the accelerating deterioration in the media freedom situation in Egypt in the run-up to the 28 November elections. In the latest development, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ordered a 15-day extension to blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah’s pre-trial detention on 13 November.
The Supreme Council has constantly restricted freedom of information ever since President Hosni Mubarak’s removal on 11 February. It has summoned journalists and bloggers before military courts and has convicted and jailed netizens.
Now that the country is about to embark on a series of elections that will continue until March, the Supreme Council is showing less and less ability to tolerate fundamental freedoms. The democratic transition that Egyptians desire will not be possible without media freedom, which is now in grave danger.
Reporters Without Borders would like to remind everyone that a free press and the free flow of information are essential for democratic elections. The Supreme Council has not only perpetuated Mubarak’s methods of controlling news and information but has reinforced them. The trials of civilians before military courts are now the norm. Arrests and convictions on charges of disturbing public order, defamation or spreading false information are being used to censor articles on sensitive subjects such as poverty, women’s rights and, especially, the armed forces. Several media were attacked and prevented from broadcasting footage of the violence on 9 and 10 October in the Cairo district of Maspero.
Reporters Without Borders urges the international community to react and to do whatever is necessary to protect freedom of expression in Egypt. To this end, it sent a letter and the attached summary of freedom of information violations in Egypt since Mubarak’s ouster to prominent international political figures and representatives of international bodies on 7 November. The recipients included Navanethem Pillay (United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights), Frank La Rue (United Nations Human Rights Council special rapporteur for the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression), Catherine Ashton (European Union high representative for foreign affairs and security), Hillary Clinton (US secretary of state) and Sylvie Coudray (UNESCO director for freedom of expression, democracy and peace). The letter and summary were also sent to the French foreign minister, the Arab League, the Human Rights Committee of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Egyptian embassy in Washington and the French embassy in Cairo.