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Mubarak-era media repression tactics back in force

Egyptian soldiers keep demonstrators away from a recent protest in Cairo
Egyptian soldiers keep demonstrators away from a recent protest in Cairo

Amr Dalsh/REUTERS

Despite the change promised by the revolution, Egypt's transitional government, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), continues to employ excessive force and repressive laws against those who share information and opinions and who take part in peaceful demonstrations, leading three IFEX members in the country to liken it to the Mubarak regime.

Despite initially vowing to do away with Egypt's hated emergency law, which has been used to clamp down on dissidents over the past 30 years, SCAF has done just the opposite. On 15 September, it passed a decree that allows it to invoke emergency law almost at will, in response to situations including, but not limited to, dissemination of false news and statements, vandalism and the obstruction of roads, report the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) and other IFEX members.

"[The decree] will allow for the intimidation and harassment of persons involved in peaceful protests, demonstrations, and strikes. It also constitutes a direct threat to freedom of expression and a free media," said the three Egyptian IFEX members in a statement, which was also signed by 19 other Egyptian civil society groups. Among other demands, the signatories are calling for the abolishment of the decree and an end to the campaigns against civil society organisations that has continued since the spring.

Last week, SCAF's Ministry of Information raided and shut down Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr (Al-Jazeera's Egypt affiliate), after the government failed to issue the station a licence four months after it applied for one, report ANHRI, CIHRS, EOHR and others. Equipment was seized and a technical engineer was arrested. Such shut downs are likely to continue as the government has issued a "freeze" on any new licenses for satellite stations, says the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Another troubling development is the recent banning of journalists from political trials, including the trial of Mubarak, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

One of the most alarming cases is that of jailed blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad, who was given three years for questioning the supposed neutrality of the armed forces during Egypt's mass uprising in January and February. He was rushed to the infirmary several weeks into a hunger strike, after he stopped drinking, causing IFEX members to fear for his life.

The attacks on the free press and sweeping powers of repression of the supposedly democratic new government represent "an insult to the thousands who sacrificed and died in a vicious battle to overthrow the entire regime," said ANHRI, CIHRS and EOHR.

Concerned about what the trampling of democratic rights mean for upcoming elections, EOHR is currently selecting and training 1,000 local electoral observers. Egyptian groups are also working together on a media monitoring project during the elections.

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