New York, August 25, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns a recent wave of newspaper censorship in Egypt. Three privately owned newspapers were prevented from going to print or into circulation because of content critical of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, according to news reports.
The censorship comes as the government has approved an anti-terrorism law that criminalizes basic reporting and defines terrorist crimes in a broad manner that can be used to threaten and imprison critical journalists. According to CPJ research, 22 journalists are currently in jail in Egypt because of their work.
“In addition to intimidating journalists with legal harassment and jail, Egypt is resorting to crude censorship to ensure that critical coverage does not see the light of day,” CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said. “We call on authorities to stop interfering with newspapers and instead allow the public to exercise its right to news and information.”
The state-owned Al Ahram printing house on Saturday told Gamal Sultan, editor-in-chief of Al Mesryoon, that it would not print the weekly edition of the newspaper unless two stories about the president were removed, Sultan wrote on the newspaper’s website. The printing house told Sultan it was acting on orders from an “unnamed authority.”
Al Ahram told Sultan that the objections were to an editorial by him, titled “Why doesn’t Sisi stop playing the role of an Islamic thinker?” The editorial, a summary of which is available online, criticized the president for paying too much attention to the content of religious sermons in the country.
The printing house said the authority also objected to a news item about a presidential trip to the United Kingdom later this year, according to Sultan. Al Mesryoon, which takes an Islamist editorial line,said it removed all references to both articles so that the edition could go to print on time.
Ahmed Sayyed el Naggar, director of the Al Ahram printing house, said in apress statement that Al Ahram was not part of any decision to stop the printing of Al Mesryoon. Al Ahram prints and distributes the majority of Egypt’s newspapers.
Also on Saturday, the privately owned weekly Al Sabah was prevented from going to print over a story titled “How to become a child of the president in 9 steps” which criticized the head of the Al Watan political party, Mohamed Badran, for his close affiliation with the president. The edition went to print after Al Sabah removed the story, according to news reports.
A government spokesperson declined requests for comment from several news outlets on the cases of censorship, telling reporters that he had never heard of either newspaper, the outlets reported.
On August 14, Al Ahram recalled and shredded freshly printed copies of the privately owned Sawt al Ummah newspaper from distribution sites, over a story about el-Sisi’s visit to his mother while she was in the hospital, the paper’s editor-in-chief told Al Bedaiahnews website. The printing house reprinted the issue after Sawt al Ummah had removed the story, the editor-in-chief said.
Sawt al Ummah has been targeted by Egyptian authorities several times, CPJ research shows.