New York, August 8, 2017–Egyptian authorities should stop censoring Al-Mesryoon newspaper and harassing its journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Authorities banned this week’s edition of the newspaper and summoned Al-Mesryoon Editor-in-Chief Gamal Sultan and Managing Editor Mahmoud Sultan for interrogation, according to Gamal Sultan and news reports.
Employees of the state-owned Al-Ahram printing house on August 5 told an Al-Mesryoon employee that “a security apparatus” ordered them not to print this week’s edition of the newspaper, Gamal Sultan told CPJ. The printing house, which according to press reports prints most newspapers in Egypt, did not specify which security agency was behind the decision, and whether future issues would also be affected, the editor said. Gamal Sultan told CPJ that security officials had ordered the newspaper to remove articles prior to publication before, but that this time, after seven hours of negotiations with the printing house as an intermediary, the security officials deemed the entire edition “inappropriate.” The newspaper has consistently been critical of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government.
“They told us they were taking a position against the newspaper and its editorial policy,” Gamal Sultan said.
Yesterday, National Security prosecutors summoned both Gamal and Mahmoud Sultan for questioning, Gamal Sultan told CPJ. The summons, which was sent via the Journalists’ Syndicate, mentioned only a case number and did not detail any allegations, according to news reports. The two editors did not attend, so the interview was rescheduled for August 12, according to Gamal Sultan and the Egyptian press freedom group Journalists Against Torture.
“Egypt is trying to silence what few critical and independent voices remain in the press,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington, D.C. “We call on Egyptian authorities to stop censoring Al-Mesryoon newspaper and to stop harassing Gamal and Mahmoud Sultan.”
The Egyptian Interior Ministry did not immediately respond to CPJ’s email requesting comment.
Al-Mesryoon has run afoul of Egyptian security agencies in the past. The newspaper’s website has been blocked in Egypt since May, alongside at least 133 others, according to Egypt’s Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression and news reports. In March, a Cairo criminal court ordered Al-Mesryoon reporter Iman Yehia to pay a fine of 300,000 Egyptian pounds (US$16,887) and ordered Gamal Sultan to pay 10,000 (US$563) Egyptian pounds on charges of “publishing false news” and defaming former Minister of Justice Ahmed al-Zend in a 2014 article, according to news reports. The article alleged that al-Zend sold state-owned land at below market rates to a relative during his tenure as head of the Judges’ Club, according to news reports. The journalists’ appeal of that verdict is pending, according to Gamal Sultan and news reports.
In 2015, Al-Ahram printing house told Gamal Sultan that it would not print the newspaper unless it removed two stories about President Sisi, CPJ reported at the time.