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Egyptian authorities failing to counter a declining state of press freedom

While the world will be celebrating World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2013, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) aims to look towards journalists and media workers in Egypt who are facing increasing challenges and severe restrictions at the hands of a post-revolution ruling party that was elected 10 months ago.

So far, Egyptian authorities are yet to take any meaningful steps towards the liberation of the press. On the contrary, they have displayed a complete lack of political will to guarantee journalists a free and safe atmosphere in which they could perform their jobs without fear. During clashes between opposition protesters and Muslim Brotherhood supporters, the state carelessly abandoned journalists as they suffered various kinds of abuses including beatings, detentions, and prosecution.

Four months in, the killer of Egyptian journalist Husseini Abu Deif, who was shot dead while on the job during clashes in front of the presidential palace (al-ittihadiya) in December 2012, still enjoys impunity and is yet to be punished. Many complaints and reports have been submitted to the Public Prosecution, but no serious actions were taken towards launching an investigation into the case and bringing the killer to justice.

Journalists working for independent media organizations have been exposed to many attempts at intimidating them into silence. The Media Production City was surrounded twice by followers of the Muslim Brotherhood who proceeded to attack and threaten journalists and guests in a bid to convince them to change their political approach and force them to refrain from criticizing the government.

Criminal defamation suits rose in number as well, as journalists and media professionals found complaints and reports being submitted against them to the Attorney-General. Most of them were investigated on vague charges of 'insulting the president' and 'publishing false news'.

Public broadcasters and media owned or controlled by the state – in terms of management or editorial policy – are also suffering under the tight grip of the government. Employees of the Maspero building, which houses the Egyptian Radio and Television Union, represent at least 50% of the media in Egypt and constantly face the risk of being punished administratively or suspended from work in case they choose to disagree with the authorities or call for the liberalization of public media.

Beyond that, the new constitution has failed to prohibit the penalties that deprive publishing freedoms. Egyptian legislation still includes imprisonment sentences in publishes cases. The Shura Council, the upper house of Egyptian bicameral Parliament, has not moved towards changing any of the articles restricting press freedom in Egyptian laws, articles which allow for criminal trials to hang like swords over the necks of journalists as they carry out their work.

“President Mohamed Morsi must fulfill his pledges, which he was elected for, some of which were in relation to press freedoms,” said ANHRI, “and the same applies to the Shura Council, made up of a majority from the political Islam current.”

“On this day, we would like to stress that we will not forget to warn the Egyptian authorities against their continuous violations of press freedom,” added ANHRI, referring to World Press Freedom Day, “such deeds will not reap any benefits, they will only damage the country's human rights record and encourage hostility within the Egyptian society which still calls for change, freedom, and social justice.”

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