Egypt ‘one of the biggest prisons for journalists’

One hundred days after the arrest of Mahmoud Hussein, Egyptian authorities continue to crackdown on the media.

Egypt journalism
Journalist holds a sign that says 'Journalism is not a crime', during a protest for the release of detained journalists in Cairo [Reuters]

It has been 100 days since Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein was arrested and detained by the Egyptian authorities.

Hussein was arrested upon his arrival at Cairo’s airport on December 20 on a family visit from Qatar, where he is based. He was later accused of “incitement against state institutions and broadcasting false news with the aim of spreading chaos”.

Since then, Egypt continues to witness a further crackdown on the media. 

On December 27, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi signed a new media law that will see the creation of Supreme Council for the Administration of the Media. A council with the authority to revoke press licences from foreign media and fine or suspend media organisations. The law, according to analysts, is considered a blow to pluralism and press freedom in the country.

Hussein is one of at least 26 journalists currently imprisoned for their work in Egypt.

Earlier this month, a local court postponed the final verdict for former Press Syndicate head, Yehia Qallash, who was arrested along with his colleagues, Gamal Abdel Reheem, and Khaled El-Balshy, in November. The three were accused of harbouring two fugitives in their office.

After their office was ransacked, they were slapped with a two-year sentence with a bail of EGP 10,000 each. The press syndicate is the equivalent of a journalist’s union, and it was the first time in Egyptian history that the head of the union was prosecuted.

READ MORE: Egypt renews detention of Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Hussein

On March 1, the speaker of parliament, Ali Abdel-Aal, along with Egyptian politicians, filed a criminal complaint against Ibrahim Eissa, the editor of local paper Al-Maqal. The charge claimed that Eissa “insulted” the parliament, referring to satirical headlines printed by the paper.

Middle East and North Africa programme coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists Sherif Mansour said: “Instead of pursuing charges against journalists for criticising their performance, Egyptian lawmakers should uphold constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press by striking laws criminalising ‘insulting the parliament’ from the books.” 

Also as Hussein continues to be detained, Cairo’s criminal court postponed journalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid’s trial again.The March 21 sit-down was adjourned until April 8.

Abou Zeid, who’s widely known as Shawkan, was arrested in 2013. He is a part of the “Rabaa Dispersal” case, which also includes leaders of the Muslim brotherhood. Abou Zeid was covering the Rabaa sit-in during August 2013, when he was swept along with those arrested. He’s the sole journalist included in the trial. He has been in prison ever since and suffers from Hepatitis C.

Egypt currently ranks 159 out of 180 countries on Reporters without Borders’ World Press Freedom index.

The country is considered by the organisation as one of the “biggest prisons for journalists”. 

Source: Al Jazeera