Egypt must stop censoring newspapers

New York, September 27, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the censorship of two newspapers in the past four days, the first instances of their kind since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak in February. Production of the Saturday edition of the independent weekly Sawt al-Umma was halted, while the daily Rose al-Youssef was prevented from printing a page in today’s paper that was to feature a controversial story.

“The military government has revived Mubarak-era repression,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “These two instances of censorship have been preceded by the closing of a news bureau, the interrogation of journalists, and other instances of press restrictions and intimidation.”

Al-Ahram printing house, which publishes the semi-official daily Al-Ahram and other newspapers, told Sawt al-Umma editors that it was halting production of its Saturday edition because of the paper’s story on Mubarak’s ongoing trial, news reports said. The government has imposed restrictions on coverage of the Mubarak trial, although domestic media outlets have reported extensively on the proceedings. About 100,000 copies of the issue had already been printed by the time the decision was made, Sawt al-Umma‘s editor-in-chief, Abdel Halim Kandil, told the satellite news channel Al-Arabiya. 

Sawt al-Umma was a frequent target of harassment under Mubarak’s regime, CPJ research shows. Several of its journalists faced criminal charges, and many of its print runs were censored, news reports said.

Al-Ahram also informed Rose al-Youssef, a pro-regime daily during the Mubarak era, that a page in today’s issue that included the second part of an investigative report would be omitted, local news outlets reported. After part one was published on Monday, describing an alleged Israeli spy once stationed in Cairo, an unidentified “sovereign” body told Al-Ahram not to allow publication of any further details of the case, the daily’s editor-in-chief, Ibrahim Khalil, told reporters. Al-Ahram told the newspaper that an amended version of the issue–one that didn’t include the offending page–would appear on newsstands, news reports said.

Recent actions by Egyptian authorities have signaled a declining environment for press freedom. In September, government agents shut down an Al-Jazeera bureau, while the military announced a “temporary freeze” on issuing licenses to satellite television stations, CPJ reported. In June, military authorities interrogated and intimidated independent or critical journalists on grounds of their work.