In Egypt, military harasses critical journalists

New York, June 2, 2011The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to stop its harassment of journalists who report critically on the military. Officers and military prosecutors have censored, harassed, or otherwise intimidated numerous critical journalists since February, and particularly in recent weeks.

“The military, and particularly the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces continues to employ censorship, intimidation, and politicized legal proceedings to cow critical journalists into silence,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “The military asserts that it is the guardian of the revolution; it that’s so, it should encourage, not repress, freedom of expression.” 

Below are some recent cases:

  • Today, military prosecutors questioned Al-Wafd editor Hossam al-Suwaifi and Sayyid Abdel Ati, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper’s weekly edition, in connection with an article in the May 26 issue, local journalists told CPJ. The story was about an alleged political deal between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. Abdel Ati was charged with publishing false information likely to disturb the peace, lawyers from the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, which represented the two journalists, told CPJ. Al-Suwaifi was not charged with a crime.
  • On Monday, blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy and television presenter Reem Maged were summoned to appear before a military court, the prominent blogger told CPJ. El-Hamalawy was told that he would be questioned by military prosecutors about his statements during a talk show hosted by Maged the previous Thursday, in which he called for investigations into alleged abuses by military personnel. During the show, el-Hamalawy said that responsibility rested with General Hamdi Badin, the commander of military police. El-Hamalawy told CPJ that he was being investigated because Badin had filed a complaint against him, and that Maged was appearing as “a witness.”
  • On the same day, journalist Nabil Sharaf Eddin was also summoned for questioning before military prosecutors, local journalists told CPJ, over a television interview a few days earlier that alleged there exists “an understanding” between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. General Mamdouh Shahin, Egypt’s deputy minister of defense and a member of the SCAF, telephoned the show and denied on the air the existence of any such arrangement. He also indicated during the phone call that Sharaf Eddin could be pursued legally for making such a claim. Sharaf Eddin responded on the air by saying that he “considered that a threat,” CPJ research reveals.
  • A handful of local websites reported that freelance journalist Shahira Amin was summoned for questioning by military prosecutors about allegedly fabricating a quote from an unnamed general. Amin told CPJ that she has not been summoned, that she had “had no contact at all with the military since the interview,” and that she stands by her story. Such accusations have been frequently planted as a means to discredit or frighten critical journalists, CPJ research indicates. The article Amin wrote for CNN contains a quote from an unnamed senior general confirming that “virginity checks” had been conducted on detained demonstrators, as documented in a recent Amnesty International report. The military has denied that such tests occurred. The online reports claiming that Amin was to face military prosecutors are “nothing more than a way to intimidate her and other journalists who want to cover sensitive issues,” an Egyptian journalist told CPJ on condition of anonymity.
  • Investigative journalist Yosri Fouda, who hosts a popular nightly talk show on the privately owned satellite broadcaster ONTV, cancelled an episode that was supposed to air on May 23. Foda opened his show on May 24 by telling his viewers that he “postponed” the previous day’s episode because the Morale Affairs Directorate of the Egyptian military asked that the show, which is usually broadcast live, be recorded and that the military be provided the show’s questions in advance. The invited guests included two senior generals.
  • On May 10, journalist and talk show host Mahmoud Sharaf abruptly ended his weekly show on the state-owned channel Nile TV by saying “if the head of [Egyptian] television wants to present the show instead of me, he is welcome to do so. If you want your media to remain at this level, then I say to you ‘good night.'” The sudden conclusion of the program, just 10 minutes into it, came after the show’s director received a deluge of phone calls from the head of the Television and Radio Union and Nile TV executives asking that the “guest be reigned in,” local and regional media reported. Sharaf’s guest was prominent journalist and presidential contender Buthayna Kamel, who was criticizing the military on the air.

In a March 22 letter, the Morale Affairs Directorate of the Egyptian military demanded that editors of Egyptian publications not “publish any (topics, news, statements, complaints, advertisements, pictures) pertaining to the Armed Forces or to commanders of the Armed Forces without first consulting with the Morale Affairs Directorate and the Directorate of Military Intelligence and Information Gathering, as they are the authorities specialized in reviewing such issues, [in an effort to] ensure the security and safety of the homeland.” CPJ said in April that the letter amounts to censorship.

The military’s letter came shortly before yet another violation of press freedom in Egypt. On April 10, a military court in Cairo sentenced blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad to three years in prison for “insulting the military” after a deeply flawed trial. Sanad was arrested in March after writing an article criticizing the military’s decision-making process and a lack of transparency.