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CIHRS, ANHRI and other organisations denounce intimidation of media ahead of elections

(CIHRS/ANHRI/IFEX) - The Forum of Independent Human Rights Organizations is sorry to announce that the signs it has seen confirm the lack of the necessary political will to organize free and fair parliamentary elections on 28 November 2010. The Egyptian authorities are posing restrictions on individuals' right to run in the elections in addition to the voters' right to access the necessary information relating to the electoral process, and the stances and tendencies of the candidates and different political groups. Authorities are hindering the supervision of the elections, independent of state authorities and the ruling party, and are restricting civil society from monitoring the elections, in addition to banning international monitoring as well.

The unprecedented climate of intimidation created by the authorities within printed and visual media, especially in independent media; the escalating violent crackdown on the right to peaceful assembly and political participation; and the effective limitation of the campaigning period to only one week are indeed signs that the coming elections will not meet the international standards for free and fair elections. Rather, they offer indications that the elections will be based on legislative and constitutional corruption, with tight administrative and executive control.

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Freedom of expression and the right to exchange information during elections:

- TV channels were banned from live broadcasting from the streets of Egypt until new permits are issued by the Radio and Television Union.

- The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority issued a decision imposing new regulations on marketing and news SMS services. The seriousness of this decision lies in the fact that SMS services have become the main source of information. Any new restrictions on it will only restrict the flow of information between the sender and the receiver. In addition, this has become an important tool for electoral campaigning and for coordination between election monitors.

- The Egyptian Nilesat Satellite Company, managed by the Egyptian government, issued a number of decisions in October to cease the broadcasting of 17 channels, while issuing warnings against a number of other channels. The reason stated was to limit the dissemination of sectarian tension. While the Forum denounces and rejects religious-based hate speech, it observes that these decisions were made without any prior warning and were not issued by a court, especially given that government media has not ceased to broadcast religious hatred. This decision and the overthrowing of Ibrahim Eissa, Chief Editor of "Al-Dostor" newspaper – one of the most independent and critical newspapers – have only led to intensifying the climate of fear in all forms of media.

- Some programs known to criticize the government have been stopped, such as the closure of the studios broadcasting "Cairo Today" on Orbit Channel and the dismissal of Ibrahim Eissa from presenting "Baladna Bel Masry" (Our Country in Egyptian), on ONTV Channel.

- The head of the Supreme Electoral Commission was banned from making further press statements following interviews with "Al Wafd" and "Al-Shorouk" newspapers, where he revealed that the commission does not possess any legal powers or the necessary capacities to supervise the elections, and thus is forced to depend on the Ministry of Interior.

Exerting pressure on civil society:

- The Ministry of Social Solidarity continues to pursue human rights organizations and intimidate them by sending indirect threats. In addition, the security authorities continue to intervene in decisions of NGO registration.

- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned some representatives of international organizations, which had applied to open headquarters in Egypt, and threatened to reject their applications if they continued to expose and publicize human rights violations in Egypt, particularly during the time of the elections.

- Throughout the months of October and November, security authorities have continued to harass Arab and foreign human rights defenders entering the country, by stopping and questioning them at the airport. Even those who were officially invited by the National Council for Human Rights were targeted.

- The authorities banned a meeting organized by the Euro Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) on the day it was meant to be held, despite prior permission to hold the meeting. In addition, official meetings with a German parliamentary delegation were cancelled.

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The Forum is a coalition of 16 independent human rights organizations. This statement was released in a press conference for the Forum, held on 9 November 2010 at the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) head office.

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
What other IFEX members are saying
Related stories on ifex.org
  • Press freedom deteriorates in pre-election Egypt

    "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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