Egypt convicts another journalist, bans TV channels

New York, June 25, 2014–A Suez court sentenced a journalist to three years in prison on Tuesday on charges of inciting and committing violence during protests in April, according to news reports. The move follows harsh prison sentences given to three Al-Jazeera journalists on Monday.

Abdel Rahman Shaheen, a correspondent for Freedom and Justice News Gate, a news website affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, was arrested on April 9 in Suez City, reports said. The Muslim Brotherhood has been declared a terrorist organization by the Egyptian government. Freedom and Justice News Gate condemned the arrest and denied the allegations against Shaheen in a statement issued shortly after the journalist’s arrest. It is not clear if Shaheen will appeal.

Egyptian authorities often use legal harassment and detention as a means to silence critical journalists, including those affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, according to CPJ research. More than 65 journalists have been detained since July 2013, when the Egyptian army ousted former President Mohamed Morsi, according to CPJ research. Most have been freed.

“The conviction and sentencing of Abdel Rahman Shaheen is another sign that Egypt is miles away from achieving democracy or freedom of the press,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator.

Separately, on Tuesday, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi said he would not interfere with the judiciary’s decision on Monday to sentence Al-Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Peter Greste, and Baher Mohamed to between seven and 10 years in prison. Local and international media organizations and human rights groups, including CPJ, have vigorously protested their conviction and prison terms.

Five of the at least 14 journalists in prison in Egypt have been convicted, according to CPJ research. The rest are in pretrial detention. El-Sisi formed a “legislative reform committee” in mid-June to draft legislation and presidential decrees until a new parliament is elected later in the year.

In 2012, one of Sisi’s predecessors, former President Mohamed Morsi, used his executive powers to amend the law and ban pretrial detention of journalists charged with press-related offenses. The move allowed Islam Afifi and Tawfiq Okasha, two journalists who were charged with defamation, to be released from prison.

“We once again urge the Egyptian government to do everything in its power to get journalists out of prison as soon as possible and to let the media operate unobstructed,” said CPJ’s Mansour. “As a first step, journalists should be freed pending trial or appeal.”

Egyptian authorities have intensified their crackdown on the press in recent days. Reuters reported on Tuesday that the Egyptian broadcasting regulator had banned Iraqi TV channels Al-Baghdadia, Al-Rafidain, and Al-Hadath TV from air on the state-owned Nilesat, which broadcasts across the Middle East and North Africa. It is unclear how long the ban will last.

The stations had covered the insurgency in Iraq spearheaded by the Al-Qaeda splinter group, Islamic State of Iraq and Sham. Earlier this month, Jordan closed another Iraqi TV station, Al-Abasiya, under reported pressure from the Iraqi government.