The Internet In the Arab World
A New Space of Repression?
No Rules, No Limits
United Arab Emirates:
Freedom of expression is missing despite a decision banning imprisonment for press crimes
Freedom Of Opinion and Expression Report
Egypt : The Government Corners Freedom Of Expression and Wages War on Words
Presented to The United Nations Human Rights Council
Universal Periodic Review (UPR)
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Egypt: The Government Hems in Freedom of Expression and Goes to War against Words
Over the last four years, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information has observed violations committed by the Egyptian government against journalists, bloggers and media workers. The government has restricted the freedom of information and used the emergency law against bloggers. The emergency law, as always stated by the government, is only to be used against "terrorists and drug dealers." The real stance of the government regarding using the emergency law differs from its statements.
The government uses the emergency law against all the peaceful currents of political opposition. The government squashes the freedom of expression through the emergency law in particular. The Arabic Network has also recorded cases of the abuse of authority carried out by the people from state security who have continuously violated human rights without being punished or even accused of any crime.
The following is a review of violations against journalists and bloggers, and the government's practice of limiting the freedom of internet use and transmission of satellite channels:
I. Physical abuse against journalists and bloggers
On November 2, 2004, while on his way home, journalist Abdul Halim Qandil, the executive editor-in-chief of Al Arabi Al Nasiry newspaper, was chased by a car driven by two plainclothes persons who forced him to accompany them against his will to a remote area in Al Moqattam. Abdul Halim was stripped naked, beaten and had his clothes stolen. He was also warned against writing any articles against the regime. The case has yet to be investigated.
On May 25, 2006, blogger Mohamed El Sharqawi was kidnapped near the journalists' syndicate. Some police officers kidnapped him from a car and beat him. A crowd of people who saw the beating gathered around the police officers who, in turn, took El Sharqawi inside of a building and continued beating him. After a while, a police car arrived and El Sharqawi was pushed inside unconscious. At Qasr El Nil police station, he was stripped naked and sexually assaulted for being outside his house, as he was previously ordered to remain there on May 23, 2006. On June15, 2006, El Sharqawi notified the attorney general about the police violation against him, but the case has yet to be investigated.
On May17,2008, journalist Kamal Murad of Al Fajr Newspaper was abused by security officers while covering the story of some farmers being expelled from their lands in Al Rahmania village, Behaira governorate. He was physically and verbally assaulted by the security officers, who subsequently arrested him and accused him of inciting the farmers to strike and to fight authority. His camera and mobile phone were confiscated. The prosecution treated him as a common criminal rather than as a victim. He was accused of insulting and assaulting security officers.
On June21, 2008, Kamal Murad notified the attorney general that he had been abused by security forces, but the case has not been investigated yet. In the same time the case filed against Murad by the police officers is being actively investigated. Due to the active investigation against Murad, the court sentenced him to 6 months in jail and to a fine of LE100. The sentence was appealed and the court will reconsider the case on May 26, 2009.
II. Prosecution of journalists before the criminal courts
A few years ago, journalists welcomed the President's promise not to imprison journalist for publishing their work. Yet in fact, journalists continue to be threatened, in spite of the president's promise. The threats vary from imprisonment to court cases to legal fines to closing down journalism-based institutions. The penalty law has about 35 articles that justify taking journalists to court. The following is a review of the cases filed against journalists:
III. Security control over the use of the Internet
- After sentencing each of the four editors in chief, namely; Adel Hamuda (Al Fajr), Ibrahim Eissa (El-Dustour), Wael El-Ibrashi (Sawt El-Umma) and Abdel Halim Kandil (El-Karama), to one year in prison on September 13, 2007, The Agouza Court of Appeals decided on January 31, 2009 to amend the sentence to a fine of 20 thousand Egyptian pounds each. This ruling was finalized and enforced. The charges against the four editors included 12 different indictments which included: insulting the President of the Republic the head of the NDP, the Assistant Secretary-General and Policy Secretary-General; the dissemination of misinformation, false statements and rumors; and broadcasting "malicious propaganda" that would "disturb public security" and "strike terror among the people" and "harm the public interest."
- Al-Azhar Sheikh filed a lawsuit against Adel Hammouda, editor-in-chief of Al Fajr newspaper, and Mohamed El Baz, Associate editor, on charges of the contempt of an organizational body and the slander of a public officer (Sheikh Al-Azhar). The Giza Criminal Court sentenced each of them to a fine of 80.000 L.E. on October 11, 2008, and the ruling was finalized and enforced.
- The case of "The President's Health" was brought by the State Security Prosecution against Ibrahim Issa, editor of Al-Dustour, on the charge of "spreading false statements to harm the public interest." On September 28, 2008, the Bulaq Abul Ela Court of Appeals decided to amend the appellant's sentence from six months imprisonment to two months, before a presidential pardon was issued on October 6, 2008.
- On December 30, 2008, Kamal Murad, a journalist at el-Fajr newspaper, was sentenced to six months on the charge of affronting and threatening police officers in charge of public service while performing their job.
In protest against this trend of putting journalists on trial before criminal courts and sentencing them to imprisonment and heavy fines, newspapers halted publication twice. On July 8, 2006, 26 newspapers put a temporary hold on publication in protest against the amendments of the press law and the failure to implement the president's promise to abolish imprisonment in publication cases. On October 7, 2007, partisan and independent newspapers halted publication in protest against the continuing imprisonment of journalist in publication cases.
Over the last few years, Egyptian security forces have been concerned with following and observing the growing number of political activists, who do not necessarily belong to parties of the opposition and opposition group, turning to the Internet to organize protests, sit-ins and strikes. The government, represented by the Ministry of the Interior, has tried to hem in Internet users and control the circulation of information over the web, monitoring various websites and blogs to abort any calls for strikes.
On February 23, 2005, the Ministry of Interior committed managers and owners of Internet cafes to register the names and identity numbers of Internet users in cafes. He further compelled them to bring this record to the state security officer deemed responsible for Internet cafes. The Interior Ministry also threatened to close down internet cafes which fail to implement this procedure, in spite of its illegality.
After the partial success of the strike of April 6, 2008, which was launched through the Facebook social networking website, the Egyptian government imposed a new measure which heightens the extent of censorship on Internet users, and violates their right to privacy. The new measure obliges tourist-geared coffee shops to keep the information of their visitors who use the internet, including their names, email and phone numbers before allowing them to use the web. This procedure, a violation of the right to privacy and an act of censorship, has become a wide spread reality for months. The Ministry of Interior depends on companies that provide telecommunication and Internet service to extend its control over Internet users.
IV. The use of the Emergency Law against bloggers
The Emergency Law is the weapon used by the security agents in the fight against Egyptian bloggers. As a law criminalizing publications on the Internet is absent, the SSI, who considers these individuals as a threat to public security, has arrested some of them and issued decisions to arrest others by means of the Emergency Law. Bloggers who were arrested under the Emergency Law included, by way of example, but are not limited to:
V. The act to organize satellite broadcast restricts media freedoms
- Israa Abdul-Fattah (the one who called for the strike of 6 April 2008)
- Abu Mus'ad Fajr (owner of the blog 'we want to live')
- Mohamed Adel (owner of the blog 'dead')
- Abdul Aziz Mujahid (Esterahet Mujahid blog)
- Reda Abdul Rahman (owner of the blog 'Justice - Freedom – Peace')
- Dia Eddin Gad (owner of the blog 'an angry voice')
- Mohamed Rifaat (owner of the blog 'matabbat')
- Philip Rizk (Owner of the blog 'Taboula Gaza')
- Mohamed Khairi (owner of the blog 'garr shakal')
- Ahmed Mohsen (owner of the blog 'open your eyes')
- Abdul Rahman Faris (owner of the blog 'my tongue is the pen')
- Saif el-Islam Muhammad Ibrahim (owner of the blog Saif- not with them).
On February 12, 2008, the meeting of Arab Ministers of Information issued a document entitled "Principles to Organize Satellite Transmissions and the Reception of Radio and Television in the Arab World." The Egyptian Ministry of Information took the initiative to issue the document in cooperation with two of the most repressive Arab governments, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, which are particularly hostile to the freedom of expression and information. The relentless pursuit of these three governments to hinder the freedom of Arab satellite stations is clearly reflected in the document, as these stations operate independently of governments and their desires.
In the light of the terms of this document, the Egyptian Ministry of Information declared, on July 2008, the preparation of a draft of a bill entitled "Law on the Organization of Audiovisual Broadcasting".
Most of these terms and project articles were characterized by ambiguity and uncertainty, since these terms shall be interpreted in accordance with the vision of the organs of the public prosecution and security services, which allows the expanded use of these articles against journalists and media professionals.
Examples of violations against satellite stations after the announcement of the document:
Examples of violations against media professionals in satellite stations:
- Ceasing the transmission of el-Baraka channel at the beginning of February 2008, under the pretense of not completing its registration papers, a charg denied by the channel's founders.
- Ceasing the transmission of el-Hikma channel on February 27, 2008, so as its viewers were caught off guard since there had been no prior notice or reasons provided. On November 2008, the Egyptian Satellite Company, which is responsible for the managing Egyptian satellite (NileSat), decided to terminate the channel, and prohibit it from all forms of broadcasting, without giving reasons or a justification for this arbitrary decision.
- Ceasing the transmission of al-Hiwar channel on April 1, 2008. The Department of the Egyptian satellite (Nile Sat) decided to stop broadcasting the channel on the satellite, without giving reasons.
- Closure of the office of 'the Iranian World' Channel on July 17, 2008, after the Egyptian police broke into the channel's office in downtown Cairo, and confiscated all of the cameras, computers and imaging tools, under the pretense of working without a permit. This channel, however, has been working in Cairo since 2004.
- Cancelling filming of programs for al-Hurra American Satellite Channel on August 2008. The Egyptian security services exerted considerable pressure on one of the photography companies to cancel filming of two programs of al-Hurra American Channel without giving any reasons, despite the prior agreement with the company four weeks earlier.
The ruling was appealed before the Bulaq Court of Appeals, which decided to amend the decision to acquittal of the accused on all charges.
- On May 2, 2007, the el-Nuzha Misdemeanor Court in Cairo sentenced Huwaida Taha, Program Editor in al-Jazeera Channel, to 6 months in prison, on a bail of 10 thousand pounds and a forfeiture of 20 thousand pounds. His videotapes which had been seized were confiscated, on the charge of "engaging in an activity that would harm the national interests of the country," and "broadcasting fabricated acting scenes to defame the country's reputation." The documentary for which Taha was tried, "Behind the Sun," deals with police torture in Egypt. On February, 2008, the al-Nuzha court of appeal repealed the sentence of imprisonment and fined Huwaida to twenty thousand Egyptian pounds. The verdict was finalized and enforced.
- On April 16, 2008, police broke into the headquarters of the Cairo News Company, ordered the confiscation of its equipment, and called its director, Nader Gohar, in for questioning. The whole file was referred to the Judiciary, and the Bulaq Misdemeanor court sentenced the company to a fine of fifty thousand pounds, and ordered the confiscation of the equipment seized by security officers during the search.
Examples of violations against satellite programs:
VI. Censorship and confiscation of creative works
- A part of the program "90 minutes" was prevented from broadcasting at the end of February 2008, as the channel apologized for not broadcasting the program two hours earlier because of "accidental circumstances." It was clear then that banned portion was a discussion of the draft of the "Anti-terrorism Act."
- At the beginning of October 2008, security forces pressured the channel "Dream" to stop broadcasting a part of the '22:00 O'clock' program concerning meetings conducted by the program with some of the parties to the crisis of the al-Jazeera school in Alexandria. The program intended to address the raid of the security services on the school and the depriving of school students from study. The raid came under the pretense that the school conducted business with the financial institutions of the "Muslim Brotherhood," and led to the paralysis of the citizen Hamada Abdul Latif with quadriplegia after being attacked by the security forces. Some journalist and regular citizens were also arrested
Over the last few years, many publications have been confiscated by security forces, including:
VII. Hisba lawsuits
- "The Modern Sheikhs and the Industry of Religious Extremism" by Dr. Mohamed Fattouh in 2006. The publishing house was raided and 280 copies of the book were confiscated.
- "The Balcony of Laila Murad" by poet Helmi Salem- 2008.
- The novel "Metro" and the prosecution of its author Magdy El-Shafei and its publisher Muhammad Al-Sharkawi. The Morality Squad claimed that the novel contains words and painting contrary to public morals, as the book is a comic graphic-illustrated story. The trial started in 2008 and is still pending.
- "From the papers of Shahenda Meqled" in 2008. The author was put on trial and sentenced to a 6 month suspended sentence in prison and a fine of ten thousand pounds.
- "The Oppressed: The History of the Coptic Nation," in 2008. The book was published by the Middle Eastern Christians Organization, and the representative of the organization in Egypt, Dr. Adel Fawzy, was put on trial. The book was also confiscated.
- The fictional play 'God Resigns at the Summit Meeting' by Nawal Saadawi," in 2008.
- Withdrawing the license of 'Ibdaa' Magazine. The Administrative Judicial Court issued a decision in 2009 to cease its publication on the grounds of publishing the poem "The Balcony of Layla Mourad" by the poet Helmi Salem.
In recent years, Hisba lawsuits, whether political or religious, have become widespread. In these cases, a citizen who has neither competence nor interest, can sue others before various kinds of judiciaries. These lawsuits can come; under the pretense of "fear for the security of the State, and "fear for the interest of the Islamic religion."
Examples of political Hisba lawsuits:
Examples of religious Hisba lawsuits:
- Cases against Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Chairman of Ibn Khaldoun Center for Development Studies, submitted by Abul-Naga el-Mehrezi, a member of Parliament, and Thuraya Labana, head of social professions, on the grounds that he published "inflammatory" articles outside Egypt expressing his opinion on the ruling party.
- A lawyer and member of the ruling National Democratic Party brought a case against four editors; Adel Hammouda, editor of el-Fajr newspaper, Ibrahim Issa, editor of Al-Dostour newspaper, Wael El Ibrashi, editor of Sawt el-Umma newspaper and Abdel-Halim Kandil, editor of Al-Karama newspaper, for publishing articles critical of the President of the Republic.
- A case against the feminist writer Nawal el-Saadawi filed by an Islamist lawyer before the administrative courts to separate her from her husband, in 2008.
- A case against the poet Helmi Salem brought by an Islamist lawyer; for publishing a poem entitled "The Balcony of Layla Murad" in 2008.