New York, June 25, 2019 -- Egyptian authorities should immediately unblock the website of al-Tahrir newspaper and ensure that media outlets can publish online freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
The weekly newspaper's website has been inaccessible in Egypt since May 9, according to Mohamed Fawzy, al-Tahrir's editor-in-chief, who spoke to CPJ via phone. Authorities have not offered any explanation for the block, Fawzy said.
On June 23, al-Tahrir's board of directors said that the newspaper will be insolvent within two months if its website remains blocked, according to a board statement posted by the Egyptian Observatory for Journalism and Media, a local human rights group. The newspaper has continued printing its weekly version, but its website brought in 80 percent of the company's advertising revenue, Fawzy told CPJ.
"The arbitrary blocking of al-Tahrir's website is blunt censorship and could be designed to force the publication to shut down," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado from Larnaca, Cyprus. "Egyptian authorities should unblock al-Tahrir's website immediately and allow information in the country to flow freely rather than at their own whim."
CPJ spoke with three journalists in Cairo who confirmed that they could not access the paper's website. CPJ was able to access the website from the United States.
Al-Tahrir sent letters to multiple Egyptian government ministries seeking an explanation for the block, Fawzy told CPJ. He said that the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, the government-appointed censorship body, responded on May 26 denying responsibility for the website's blockage and stating that the newspaper did not commit any violations that would have merited such actions.
CPJ emailed the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, Egypt's National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, and the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, but did not receive any response.
On May 10, specialists determined that al-Tahrir's servers were functioning normally and that the blockage must be occurring elsewhere, according to the board of directors' statement.
CPJ also emailed Orange and Etisalat, the country's largest internet service providers, but did not immediately receive any response.
"At first, we thought it was a technical problem. But after almost two months of no official responses, we now know the website must be blocked on purpose. We just want to know why," Fawzy said.
Al-Tahrir journalists have continued reporting since the website was blocked, and have been using virtual private networks (VPNs) to post articles online, according to Seddiq al-Eissawi, a reporter and editor at the newspaper, who spoke to CPJ on the phone.
On June 24, the Egyptian Journalists' Syndicate, an independent journalists' union, published a statement denouncing the block and demanding an explanation from the government.
In March 2019, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation issued a bylaw announcing that websites in violation of Egypt's media laws would be blocked, and promptly censored the website of local newspaper al-Mashhad, which remains blocked today, as CPJ reported last month. Local journalists confirmed the block remains in place.
At least 103 news websites have been blocked in Egypt since May 2017, according to tests conducted by the Egyptian human rights group Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression.