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'Vicious crackdown on civil society': Belahmar joins list of 127 websites blocked in Egypt Open in fullscreen

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'Vicious crackdown on civil society': Belahmar joins list of 127 websites blocked in Egypt

None of the 127 websites have been officially notified of the block [Getty]

Date of publication: 25 July, 2017

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Egypt has blocked access to leftist website Belahmar, bringing the total number of blocked websites to 127.
Egypt, under fire for muzzling freedom of expression, has blocked access to leftist website Belahmar, bringing the total number of blocked websites to 127.

"At first, we thought the problem was technical, and this why we issued a statement on social media apologising," Mostafa Bassiouny, managing editor at Belahmar, told Mada Masr, also one of the blocked websites.

"But after following up with the technical team, we confirmed that the website is in fact blocked," he added.

Back in May, around 20 websites based in Qatar and in Egypt were made inaccessible, including Qatar's Al Jazeera and Mada Masr, an independent Egyptian news site that has been critical of corruption.

By Tuesday, the number of blocked sites had risen to 127, in addition to al-Araby al-Jadeed, which was blocked in 2015, according to data compiled by the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE).

None of the 127 websites have been officially notified of the block, and service providers have remained silent on the issue.

However, the Journalists Syndicate asserted that there is ongoing communication with relevant government bodies to discuss the issue and attempt to resolve the situation.

"The syndicate will call for a meeting between board members and representatives from the blocked websites in the coming days to evaluate the content they publish, particularly those websites that have a print edition but publish different material on their online portals," Journalist Syndicate General Secretary Hatem Zakaria told Mada Masr.

US-based civic organisation Avaaz also joined the list last month.

The 44 million-member civic organisation that promotes activism internationally, responded to the block by launching a petition addressed to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi demanding an end to "the information blockade".

"Before this censorship spreads, let's come together in massive numbers to show Sisi and other leaders across the Middle East that the world won't stand by when governments attack freedom of speech and human dignity," the petition read.

"We're not alone – this is part of a vicious crackdown on civil society across the country, with hundreds of activists being imprisoned and news outlets being shut down," it added.

"This is an attack on our whole movement, and the democratic freedoms it represents."

According to the website, Egypt is home to the largest community of "Avaazers" in the Middle East.

At first, we thought the problem was technical, and this why we issued a statement on social media to apologizing. But after following up with the technical team, we confirmed that the website is in fact blocked
- Mostafa Bassiouny

In April, Egyptian activists used Avaaz to call on the Egyptian authorities to pardon young detainee Ahmed al-Khatib, who had contracted visceral leishmaniosis in prison.

"We call on the Egyptian government to release Ahmed al‐Khatib so he can receive the appropriate treatment in an advanced hospital outside Egypt," read the petition, which has gathered over 36,000 signatures so far.

Amnesty International has condemned Egypt's block on the websites.

"The latest clampdown on digital media is further evidence of Egypt's age-old police state tactics in motion," Najia Bounaim, Amnesty International's North Africa campaigns director, said in June.

"Even in the darkest days of the repressive Mubarak-era the authorities didn't cut off access to all independent news sites."

The London-based watchdog added that with this move, Egyptian authorities seemed to be targeting "the few remaining spaces for free expression in the country".

"It shows just how determined the authorities are to prevent Egyptians from accessing independent reporting, analysis and opinion about Egypt," it said, urging the authorities to "immediately stop arbitrarily blocking news websites".

An anti-terrorism law, adopted in August 2015, lays down stiff penalties for publishing "false information" on attacks in Egypt that contradicts official reports from the defence ministry, stirring condemnation from rights groups.

In the 2017 press freedom index published by watchdog Reporters Without Borders, Egypt ranks 161st out of 180 countries.

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