On World Press Freedom Day: Press, Journalists in Egypt Between Trials and Suppression

On World Press Freedom Day: Press, Journalists in Egypt Between Trials and Suppression

On May 3rd of every year, the world celebrates Press Freedom Day through the publication of reports on violations of freedom of thought and expression.  The UN General Assembly had first called for the celebration of World Press Freedom Day in 1993 in order to assess press freedom around the world, protect media against attacks on its independence, and honor journalists who faced legal and security annoyances in their quest for the truth.


In Freedom House’s report on press freedom, Egypt ranked 128 worldwide in year 2009 after ranking 124 in 2008, a matter which observers described as the best evidence that journalists in Egypt are besieged by the suppression of their thought and expression.


The last three years in Egypt had witnessed the highest rate of violations of freedom of thought and expression such as the blocking and closing of websites and illegal detainment of, assaults on, and legal pursuit of several bloggers and rights activists.  An example was the brief filed by Alexandria Appellate Court Judge Abdel-Fattah Murad in support of blocking 51 websites and blogs in the year 2007.  Other violations include searching bloggers’ houses and sometimes stealing their personal belongings.


The year 2009 alone witnessed several banned publication cases against journalists and media men who were chased while covering news, especially concerning strikes, sit-ins, and demonstrations.


Early 2009 also witnessed the detainment of and assaults on several Egyptian journalists who had been covering Gaza demonstrations in addition to others as incidents heated up at the international, regional, and local levels.  This year also witnessed the affirmation of a penalty charge issued against the editors in chief of the four most popular independent Egyptian opposition newspapers.


The Egyptian press arena also witnessed the halt of El-Badeel daily newspaper since Thursday, April 9 after suffering poor financial conditions and deprivation from ads, especially after the global financial crisis.  This, in turn, led to the lowering of wages of the paper’s employees for months and forced it to transfer its printing from Al-Ahram to El-Tahrir due to the increase in price of the former before it completely stopped.


On the other hand, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights report had monitored 411 violations of freedom of thought and expression in Egypt between the year 2000-2009 (March) including 38 cases of bad treatment of and assaults on journalists, 33 cases against journalists under general prosecution, 168 court cases against journalists, 130 books confiscated, 30 blogs called to trial, and 12 violations against satellite channels.


Furthermore, the Development Dialogue forum issued its quarterly report on the situation of press freedom from January-March 29, 2009 monitoring 28 lawsuits filed against 13 Egyptian newspapers, eight of which plead innocent and two of which received prison sentences ending in penalty charges.  Roz El-Yusuf and El-Fajr papers were the first among those which received sentences followed by El-Masry El-Youm, El-Gumhuriyya, Sawt El-Umma, and El-Dustour.