Egyptian lawmakers should reject legislation that would allow media outlets to be branded as “terrorist entities”, the International Press Institute, a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, said today.
Last week, the Egyptian parliament’s legislative and constitutional affairs committee approved an amendment to the Egyptian penal code which would allow media outlets to be added to the regime’s list of “associations, organizations or groups” that can legally be considered terrorist.
Included on the list would be any satellite TV channel, print media, radio broadcaster or social media accounts deemed to “harm individuals, to terrorize them, or to endanger their lives, freedoms, rights, or security”.
Under the modified law, media both inside and outside the country accused of “incitement to terrorism” or those allegedly owned by “individuals or companies” with links to banned terrorist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood could face prosecution.
IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said the amendment would allow President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to crackdown on what remains of the country’s independent media.
“This change will facilitate the Egyptian authorities’ deliberate conflation of critical reporting with terrorism and will only lead to more detentions and convictions of journalists in Egypt, which is already one of the worst jailers of journalists in the world”, he said. “We fear that the government will use the law as a weapon to attack independent media outlets and silence critical journalists, whom President al-Sisi considers a threat to his regime.”
“The proposed law will strengthen the ability of the State Security Prosecution to formally charge journalists as terrorists”, Prasad said.
Legislative toolbox widens
According to IPI research, the vast majority of journalists currently behind bars in Egypt have been detained in part on charges of “membership of a terrorist group”. Under the current law, most journalists in these cases have not been formally convicted but instead held in pre-trial detention for years on end.
The move follows attempts by pro-government media to smear human rights organizations and defenders as “terrorists”.
Last week, Salah Hassaballah, spokesman for the House of Representatives, said that the state is in a “war against terrorism” and that the designation of media outlets as “terrorist entities” was a way to combat extremism online.
A spokesman for the House of Representatives confirmed the amendments to Law Regulating Terrorist Lists No. 8 of 2015 would be approved “within days”.
In recent months, the country’s state security services have ramped up the harassment and arrest of journalists.
At least 25 have been arrested in Egypt since the beginning of September, according to IPI data.
In November, security forces raided the office of award-winning media organization, Mada Masr, and detained its editors.
Over the past few months, the government has also ordered internet providers to block more than 500 different websites, according to local media reports.
A former army general, President al-Sisi came to power in 2013 after the Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohamed Morsi was removed after widespread protests.