Egyptian army soldiers keep demonstrators away from the Israeli embassy in Cairo. (Reuters)
Egyptian army soldiers keep demonstrators away from the Israeli embassy in Cairo. (Reuters)

Egyptian military institutes new media restrictions

New York, September 13, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the new measures taken by Egypt’s ruling military council. In recent days, the military announced that it would actively enforce the Hosni Mubarak-era Emergency Law, which allows civilians, including journalists, to be tried in state security courts. Other recent anti-press measures include an Al-Jazeera bureau being raided and shut down, the military announcing a “temporary freeze” on issuing licenses to satellite television stations, and a foreign blogger being denied entry into the country.

“For months now, the ruling Supreme Military Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] has been going to great lengths to hamstring the media and snuff out critical reporting,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “As the self-proclaimed guardian of the revolution, the military council ought to facilitate the work of long-silenced voices in the media instead of shutting them down and threatening them with repressive state security proceedings.”

On Saturday, the SCAF announced that it will enforce the Emergency Law, which allows civilians, including journalists, to be tried in state security courts and detained indefinitely, the independent daily Al-Masry al-Youm reported. The announcement came despite the military’s commitment to annul the law by September–a core demand of the revolution. Under the law, security officials would be allowed to take “legal procedures” to crack down on acts of “thuggery” and could use “all legal powers to safeguard the country’s security,” Al-Masry al-Youm said.

On Sunday, Egyptian police raided the Al-Agouza District offices of Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr (Al-Jazeera Live-Egypt), an affiliate of the Qatar-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera-Mubasher, shutting down their live, around-the-clock broadcasts from Cairo, Al-Jazeera reported. Uniformed security personnel raided the bureau, seizing live broadcasting equipment and detaining engineer Islam al-Banna, Station Director Ayman Gaballah told CPJ. Al-Banna was released on Monday, the station’s Cairo bureau chief, Ahmad Zein, said in an interview with broadcaster ONTV. Gaballah said that the channel continued to broadcast live from Doha. Egyptian authorities on Sunday also stopped the station’s live broadcasts from another location at the Media Production City outside Cairo.

Gaballah told CPJ that Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr began broadcasting shortly after the former regime’s fall in February and that they had applied for a license six months ago but were repeatedly told by the ministry that they could go on broadcasting without a problem since their license would be issued “within days.” Although the SCAF said the shutdown was the result of the channel operating without a license, CPJ research indicates that this was merely a pretext to silence the critical broadcaster. CPJ interviews also indicate that at least a handful of other stations were given similar instructions regarding their licenses and have operated in this manner since February.

Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr had extensively covered the recent protests in front of Israel’s embassy in Cairo, which had culminated in the ransacking of the embassy, the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram reported.

On Wednesday, the SCAF announced a “temporary freeze” on broadcasting licenses for new satellite television stations, the news channel Al-Arabiya reported. The SCAF also assigned the Investment Authority, a government organ entirely unrelated to the media, with taking legal action against satellite channels broadcasting what it deemed could incite violence or “destabilize” the country.

In a separate anti-press incident, Imad Bazzi, the Lebanese blogger who pens and is the founder of the Arab Blogging Forum, was denied entry at Cairo International Airport upon his arrival from Beirut on Tuesday, local and human rights groups reported. After 10 hours of questioning, Bazzi was deported, as he had reportedly been “blacklisted” as a security concern, the Lebanese daily Al-Akbar said. In June, the journalist had visited the jailed Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad, who has been imprisoned since March 28 on charges of insulting Egypt’s armed forces.