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ANHRI expresses concern over new restrictions on text messaging

(ANHRI/IFEX) - Cairo, 12 October 2010 - The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) strongly condemned an 11 October 2010 decision by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) to control messaging services offered by media institutes, marketing companies, civil society bodies and political parties to clients via GSM networks.

The TRA announced certain controls on the content of short messages. It notified the three GSM service providers operating in Egypt that they would have to seek approval on the content of group messages prior to sending them to their clients. The content of the messages will be reviewed by the Ministry of Information, the Supreme Press Council or competent ministries and government institutes.

Prior to this decision, civil society institutes and media corporations used group short messaging services to disseminate news and information to members, followers and clients.

The new regulations are a result of successful cooperation between the TRA and the State Security Investigations unit (SSI), Egypt's secret police agency. They obligate GSM service providers to obtain permission from the Ministry of Information or the Supreme Press Council prior to sending group messages to clients. Short messaging will become more costly and time consuming as each message will have to be reviewed by more than one clerk.

In addition, the decision grants the government wide authority to approve or refuse submitted requests according to loyalty considerations. The service will thereby be subject to unfairness, arbitrariness and prejudice.

The decision comes in the midst of a crackdown launched by the government to control independent media and democratic reform movements in order to suppress all opposition voices and restrict dissidents' ability to express their opinions and disseminate news.

ANHRI said, "As the public and presidential elections approach, the Egyptian government shows how eager and insisting it is to control all freedom of expression spaces and censor all media outlets. We have to say that freedom of expression has greatly retreated in Egypt in the past few days. These successive blows are a clear indicator of the government's plan to rig the elections and oppress the opposition in a complete media blackout and in the absence of local means of exposure and orchestration, irrespective of the Egyptian constitution or international treaties ratified by Egypt which protect the right to freedom of expression".

ANHRI added, "In the coming days, we have to find ways and take effective steps to protect our right to expression that has been gravely assaulted in the past few days. It is a serious matter and we should always defend our freedoms and promote them. We cannot keep quiet while the space for free expression is diminishing and while the government is waging a fierce war on human rights".

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    "Oblique threats and backroom deals that are not visibly linked to the government have started silencing some of Egypt's most critical independent voices," CPJ noted.



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