ANHRI Documents 43 Violations on Freedom of Expression in the Past Three Months

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The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) published a report (Arabic) about the current state of freedom of expression in Egypt, under President Mohammed Morsi. In a statement announcing the report, ANHRI pointed to the “absence of the regime’s political will in Egypt, under the rule of the first civilian-elect president, to respect the freedom of opinion, expression and freedom of the press after three months of Morsi’s rule."

The statement goes on to list the various types of violations against freedom of expression that Egypt has witnessed over the past three months – with everything ranging from physical assaults on members of the media, to legal action taken against them, as well as several cases of outright censorship and the most recent surge in blasphemy cases. In total, the report documents 43 violations that have occurred in the past three months.

ANHRI highlights the fact that Morsi made no mention of ensuring freedom of press or expression as part of his 100-day plan, adding that any expectation to see problems of this kind resolved in such a short period of time would be unrealistic. That said, the alarming increase in incidents in which these freedoms have been violated prompted the organization to issue the report.

While Egypt witnessed a crackdown on freedom of expression during its 17 month period of military rule under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the attacks on these freedoms have only continued under Muslim Brotherhood rule, particularly in regard to cases brought against actors and artists, including Egyptian actor Adel Imam who won his appeal in a case in which he was accused of defaming Islam.  

The report divides the violations in 8 categories:

Censorship: ANHRI has documented 12 cases of censorship, in which articles were prevented from appear in state and independent newspapers and magazines including al-Akhbar (3), Akhbar al-Adab, al-Ahram (3), al-Gomhorreya (2), TV and Radio Magazine (مجلة الإذاعة والتليفزيون), al-Mossawer and Akhbar al-Youm.

The articles were not published either because they contained content critical of the Muslim Brotherhood, of the Shura Council’s control of the press, the Ministry of Information – or simply because the journalist or author had made critical comments of the Brotherhood in the past. In the case of Akhbar al-Youm, the entire opinion section of the newspaper was censored on August 15.

Banning: In addition to censoring specific articles or sections in local publications, authorities have also confiscated entire issues over the publication of specific articles.

  • Newspapers that have had issues confiscated include Al Sha’ab al-Gedid, the official newspaper of Islamist party, al-‘Amal¸ for an article critical of Egypt’s intelligence services.
  • Al-Dostour newspaper was confiscated in one of the most high profile cases of this kind, and its editor-in-chief Islam al-Affifi currently facing charges of spreading false news, insulting the president, damaging national interest and spreading panic.
  • Banning has also extended far beyond print media. Authorities banned the book, A History of the Middle East as well as taking an entire channel, al-Fara’een off the air for 45 days, in the high profile case brought against its owner, Tawfiq Okasha. A program was also taken off the air on Egypt’s state Channel 2, prompting its presenter, Hala Fahmi to file a police report against the Ministry of Information.
  • Finally, ANHRI points to the fact that the graffiti in Mohammed Mahmoud Street, commemorating the Egyptian uprising, was removed in September.

Physical Attacks: ANHRI lists 3 incidents of physical attacks on journalists and critics of the Muslim Brotherhood.

  • On July 10, 2012, during a rally called in support of Morsi’s move to reverse the court’s decision dissolving parliament, protesters verbally attacked lawyer and human rights activist Negad al-Boraie. Hamdi al-Fakharani, a member of the dissolved parliament was also verbally and physically attacked for his stance against Morsi’s decree.
  • Khaled Salah, Editor of Egyptian daily al-Youm 7 filed a report against the Freedom and Justice Party head after he was attacked at Media Production City by protesters believed to be Brotherhood supporters. The protesters smashed several vehicles in the attack, including Salah’s. ONTV anchor, Yusuf Husseini was threatened by the same group, when they tried to prevent him from entering Media Production City.
  • Lastly, a Shorouk photographer was detained and assaulted by police while covering the protests in the vicinity of the US embassy. After his release, he was transferred to a hospital.

Legal Cases: The Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide, Mohamed Badie filed a lawsuit against Adel Hammouda, the editor of al-Fagr and Adel Hanafi, the newspaper’s managing editor, accusing the pair of libel and slander, over an article entitled “Secret Brotherhood documents about confronting Salafis, SCAF and non-Islamist presidential candidates.” ANHRI also lists the cases against Dustour editor, Islam Afifi, and al-Fara’aen owner Tawfiq Okasha, as well as two additional cases. FJP lawyer, Ismail al-Weshahi filed a lawsuit against Abdel Halim Qandil, editor in chief of Sawt al-Umma accusing him of the same charges brought against Afifi: insulting the president, and spreading false news and spreading panic. Lastly, a case has been brought against the team of Naharak Sa’id, a program broadcast on state channel, Nile Life, after a guest criticized the Brotherhood’s Nahda (Renaissance) project.

Hisbah: Seven ‘hisbah’ related cases were documented by ANHRI. According to the hisbah principle, all Muslims have the right to file lawsuits in cases where “an exalted right of God has been violated.”

  • Reports were filed against Mamdouh Hamza, accusing him of inciting SCAF to overthrow Morsi.
  • Former MP Mohamed Abu Hamed was referred to Supreme State Security Prosecution on charges of incitement to overthrow the government, as well as bringing an additional case against him for spreading false information about the Brotherhood.
  • A complaint was filed against Minister of Interior Ahmed Gamal al-Din for what an FJP lawyer alleged was the existence of Satanic groups in Egypt, after a heavy metal concert took place at a Cairo culture center.
  • A case was filed to stop satellite channels from broadcasting a series, Omar, which tells the story of Omar ibn al-Khattab, broadcast first on MBC.
  • Tawfiq Okasha’s case is also listed by ANHRI as a Hisbah case, with a case brought against him, accusing him of inciting his viewers to kill the president.
  • Gamal al-Beltagy, Secretary General of the Workers Union in Damietta has also been charged with libel, under accusations of insulting the president. 

Blasphemy: ANHRI lists four of the blasphemy cases that have recently come to light in Egypt.

  • Bishoy Kamel al-Beheiry, a Coptic teacher from Sohag, was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of insulting the president and Islam.
  • Alber Saber is currently behind held pending investigation on charges of insulting religion, after he shared the anti-Islam film, Innocence of Muslims on Facebook.
  • After being arrested for insulting religion, 9 year old Mina Nady Farag and 10 year old Nabil Nagy Rizk were released from juvenile detention, but have not been acquitted.
  • Nevine Gad, a social studies teacher in Assiut was arrested after a student accused her of insulting the prophet. She was later released, and charges against her dropped when it came to light that the student who made the accusation was absent from school on that day.

Restrictions on the Arts: Censorship authorities banned Amr Salama’s film Lamo’akhza (Excuse me), claiming that it would sow sectarian strife between Muslims and Christians. After modifying the script and changing the title, despite receiving an award from the Ministry of Culture, censors turned the film down again, this time for allegedly defaming the Ministry of Education.

Violent dispersal of protests: The final section in ANHRI’s report documents the dispersal of protests using force. ANRHI lists two incidents – the violent dispersal of a student protest at Nile University as well as the violent dispersal of a protest at Akhbar al Youm Academy in July, after several staff members were dismissed. 

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