Egypt has rolled out a new law that allows authorities, through a judge, to order the blocking of websites that “constitute a threat” to the state, as well as jail or fine those who run them.
The “cybercrime” legislation, signed by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Saturday, is one of a series of measures that critics have deplored as attacks against freedom of speech in the country.
The penalties also target those who intentionally or “in error without a valid reason” visit the banned websites considered by the authorities as threatening to Egypt’s economic and national security interests, according to the official gazette.
The law, the first to seek to regulate cyberspace, imposes jail terms of up to five years and fines ranging between 10,000 and 20 million Egyptian pounds ($560 and $1.1m).
Rulings can be appealed.
Internet service providers are also required to supply authorities with the personal information of suspected offenders.
Egyptian legislators last month approved a separate bill that grants the state’s Supreme Council for Media Regulations the right to monitor social media users.
Under that legislation, which Sisi has yet to approve, people whose social media accounts have more than 5,000 followers could be placed under supervision.
The council would be authorised to suspend or block any personal account which “publishes or broadcasts fake news or anything (information) inciting violating the law, violence or hatred”.
Authorities have insisted that such measures are needed to help tackle instability and security threats in the country.
But domestic and international rights activists regularly accuse the government of seeking to crush dissent by arresting activists and bloggers, as well as blocking news sites.
Egypt is currently placed 161st out of 180 countries in the press freedom rankings of global media rights organisation Reporters Without Borders.
Egyptian activists say they are facing one of the worst crackdowns in the country’s history under Sisi and accuse the president of erasing freedoms won in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that ended President Hosni Mubarak‘s 30-year rule.
More than 500 websites have already been blocked in Egypt prior to the new law, according to the Cairo-based Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression.