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Egypt fines newspaper for 'critical coverage of elections'

Egyptian diaspora protesting for press freedom outside embassy in Rome [Getty]

Date of publication: 2 April, 2018

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Al-Masry al-Youm has been fined over $8,000 for its critical coverage of the Egyptian elections in the midst of a state crackdown on the press.

An Egyptian newspaper has been fined 150,000 Egyptian pounds ($8,527) by Egypt's media regulatory body and is being investigated over a front-page report it published saying the state rallied voters to participate in the presidential election.

Sunday's decision by the Supreme Council for Media Regulation says it has called for an investigation into al-Masry al-Youm by the Press Syndicate, naming its chief and news editors specifically, and demanded that the daily issue an apology to the National Election Authority.

Pro-government media and the state's regulatory bodies have tightly held Egyptian media to ensure uncritical coverage from outlets and had largely criticised foreign media's coverage of the election.

Comment: As rights violations increase in Egypt, so does British investment

Egypt ranks 161 out of 180 countries in press freedoms according to watchdog Reporters Without Borders' 2017 Press Freedoms Index.

The government's warnings to media are not new.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former army chief elected as president in 2014 a year after toppling his Islamist predecessor in a military coup, had previously asked the media to exercise caution in criticising officials.

But in recent months, authorities have blocked about 500 websites, including media outlets like Al-Jazeera and the local Mada Masr, while journalists have been arrested.

Media blackout

The government's stepped up warnings to the media ahead of the 26 to 28 March presidential election, in which Sisi faced no serious challenge after a string of hopefuls were forced out of the race or arrested. His only challenger is a little-known candidate who supports him.

A reporter for the Huffington Post's Arabic website was detained last month after publishing an interview with prominent dissident Hisham Geneina who mentioned the existence of documents that are damaging to senior state officials.

At least 29 journalists are in detention, according to Reporters Without Borders, including some accused of working for media affiliated with the banned Muslim Brotherhood group.

Pro-Sisi businessmen have also expanded their reach into an already cowed private media, according to Reporters Without Borders. The group said security forces maintain a list of "wanted" journalists they have been to known to be forcibly disappeared. It is especially keen to crackdown on individuals who sell video content to opposition media abroad.

Early March saw some of the harshest official rhetoric against the media. The country's chief prosecutor, Nabil Sadeq, described the media as "forces of evil" - one of Sisi's hallmark phrases - saying they have been trying to "undermine the security and safety of the nation through the broadcast and publication of lies and false news".

Sisi himself described any defamation of the country's security forces as an act of "high treason."

Shortly thereafter, a bill was proposed in parliament criminalising any statements authorities define as insults toward the armed forces or police, with penalties of at least three-year jail terms and fines upward of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (or $567).

Egyptian authorities have also published a list of telephone numbers for citizens to alert reports they view as undermining security or spreading false news.

Agenices contributed to this report.

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