Reporters Without Borders criticises Egyptian media crackdown

Rebecca Hawkes | 06-11-2013

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has denounced the recent suspension of Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef's television show, along with the arrest and military trials of journalists in the troubled North African nation.

Those arrested include Islam Fathi, a correspondent for the MBC Masr TV network who was arrested while filming in al-Minya, 245 km south of Cairo, on 21 October. He was tortured and beaten repeatedly by police prior to his release, said Reporters Without Borders.

The authorities have also tried three Egyptian journalists in military courts since the Islamist president Mohammad Mursi was ousted in July, with Hatem Abou el-Nour, a journalist for Egyptian daily Al-Watan, being imprisoned for a year.
"This new wave of threats to freedom of information in Egypt is especially disturbing," the France-based NGO said.

"Arbitrary arrests and hauling journalists before military courts constitute a danger to basic freedoms, as do prison terms, even if these are suspended. These practices must stop, and journalists still jailed because of their professional activities must be freed immediately and unconditionally."

The intimidation represents "a continuation of practices in effect since 2011" said Reporters Without Borders, adding that "the successive governments in place since the fall of Hosni Mubarak - the Supreme Council of the armed forces, the Muslim Brotherhood, and today's transition regime led by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – have all been determined to repress the media and control information."

Complaints were filed against comedian Bassem Youssef, host of the CBC show Al-Barnameg (The Programme), following a broadcast on 26 October in which he was critical of both the Muslim Brotherhood and the new regime, and mocked popular support of the army. Some viewers accused him of inciting chaos, threatening national security and insulting the army.

Some days later, CBC pulled the plug on the 2 November broadcast, just before the second episode of the new series was due to air. The TV network said he had broken some clauses in his contract.

"Complaints against comedian Bassem Youssef and the suspension of his show are especially regrettable," Reporters Without Borders said. "Freedom of satirically critical expression, especially in the context of a humour programme, must have a place in a country that aspires to democracy."

The trial of former president Mursi and leading figures in his Muslim Brotherhood party began on 4 November.