A rare TV interview with Egypt’s former chief auditor – who went on trial for spreading false news after publicly alleging massive government corruption – has been banned, the former official said.
Hesham Genena, who was fired by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi after he spoke out against corruption, told The Associated Press news agency on Sunday that Al-Mehwar TV network cancelled the entire episode of the “90 minutes” talk show without giving any reasons.
Al-Mehwar has been airing promos for the interview for several days, and it was due to be aired on Saturday night. Instead the network replaced it with a soap opera.
Genena said before recording the three-hour-interview that he asked producers to get security clearance, knowing he could be blacklisted because of his anti-government positions. He said he only gave the interview after getting assurances that there were no objections.
In the interview that was banned, Genena said he spoke about the role of anti-corruption watchdogs and the need for transparency and freedom of information.
“Maybe this is what upsets them, to say the public has the right to know. The relationship between the ruled and the ruler is based on accountability,” he said. “What is happening is really sad.”
Sami Abdel-Radi, chief editor of the programme, said: “All I could say is that it has been banned.” He denied reports that the host resigned in protest.
A campaign to silence Genena, who was the head of the Central Auditing Organisation, has been in the making since the military ousting of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013 and the subsequent election of Sisi in 2014.
Sisi issued a decree last year giving himself the power to remove heads of independent bodies, such as Genena, despite their constitutional immunity.
Then remarks by Genena in December that corruption had siphoned off about $75bn in 2015 alone stirred debate. He later said he was misquoted – that the figure covered four years – and it was arrived at following an exhaustive study.
A presidential commission was quickly formed and accused him of misleading the public.
In March, he was removed from his post and a court sentenced him to one year in prison for “spreading false news”. While appealing the verdict, Genena is also challenging President Sisi in court, saying his removal was unconstitutional.
The banning of the interview also comes at a time when Sisi has continued to voice intolerance towards the media’s handling of internal and foreign affairs.
Last week, he accused the media of “harming Egypt, big time, without intention”.
Since Sisi was elected in 2014, several TV hosts – especially those critical of the government – were either suspended, fired, or deported while the ownership of private TV networks were changed.
The measures come hand-in-hand with heavy security measures against dissent, from either Islamists or pro-democracy advocates, with thousands killed and imprisoned under the banner of fighting terrorism and preserving Egypt’s stability.