Self CAIRO: Harassment of a Coptic blogger highlights dismal state of freedom of expression
CAIRO: A Coptic blogger forced to censor herself is the center of the latest report issued by Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières RSF) pinpointing violations of freedom of expression.
Reporters Without Borders today condemned the months of harassment by the authorities in Qena (near Luxor, in central Egypt) that forced Hala Helmy Botros to close down her blog Aqbat Bela Hodood (Copts Without Borders) about the persecution of the Christian Coptic minority, and to stop writing on this subject for other Web sites, reads the report.The international organization claims Botros, who published her blog under the pseudonym of Hala El-Masry, is subject to judiciary investigations, monitored by police, and has been banned from leaving the country. Botros father was physically attacked to threaten her, adds RSF.
“We are outraged by the practices used by the Egyptian authorities to intimidate and silence Botros, states the organization. “With relations between Christians and Muslims off-limits in the traditional media, all she did was write posts on the Internet about the fate of the Coptic minority. It is unacceptable that freedom of expression and movement should be restricted in this fashion. We insist that the authorities guarantee Botros’ basis rights. RSF has repeatedly expressed worries about self-censorship in Egypt and the region.
Self-censorship or exile is often the only solution for Arab journalists, states RSF s 2006 Annual Report. Most countries still have state monopolies of radio and TV and two-thirds of the 120 satellite TV stations broadcasting in the region are officially subject to government monitoring.
According to the RSF 2006 annual report, Self-censorship is also a problem in [Egypt s] media and religion, the legal system and the person of the president are taboo topics.
RSF explains that The authoritarian regimes in most countries have little respect for basic freedoms and crack down harshly on the media with repressive laws. The 2006 report says state officials often target the media and its representatives. The state of emergency was used as an excuse for this crackdown in Egypt, it adds.
Attacks on journalists increased in Egypt with more than 50 foreign and local media workers hounded, attacked or beaten during the November parliamentary elections, continues the report.
Since RSF began publishing its annual reports, Egypt s rank has reached a new low each year. In 2002, Egypt was the 110th country in the world, scoring 34.25 points. In 2004 it sank to the 129th slot, scoring 43.50, and last year it reached the 143rd position with a score of 52.0.
In this type of ranking, the lower the number, the better the performance. The RSF annual index reflects the degree of freedom journalists and news organizations enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by the state to respect and ensure respect for this freedom.
The research surveys every kind of violation directly affecting journalists (such as murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats) and news media (censorship, confiscation of issues, searches and harassment).
It registers the degree of impunity enjoyed by those responsible for such violations. It also takes account of the legal situation affecting the news media (such as penalties for press offences, the existence of a state monopoly in certain areas and the existence of a regulatory body) and the behavior of the authorities toward the state-owned news media and the foreign press. It also takes account of the main obstacles to the free flow of information on the Internet.
A questionnaire targeting these issues is distributed to partner organizations, journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists. A scale devised by the organization is used to give a country-score to each questionnaire. The Statistics Institute of the University of Paris provides assistance and advice in processing the data reliably and thoroughly.
Countries topping the index, including Finland, Denmark and Ireland, have scored 0.50, whereas North Korea came last in the 167th position, scoring 109.
Noticeably, Egypt has done relatively better than other regional neighbors; while most of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa fell under the very serious situation and difficult situation categories, Egypt was classified under noticeable problems. Two better categories remain: satisfactory situation and good situation.
In the latest RSF index, Syria was the 145th, scoring 55.0, Saudi Arabia was the 154th, scoring 66.0, Libya was the 162nd, scoring 88.75, and Iran was the 164th, scoring 89.17. Lebanon, Algeria, Sudan and Yemen all have done better than Egypt.
But in the upcoming index, due next October, Egypt might sink lower. The RSF report notes the government s failure to keep President Hosni Mubarak s promises to decriminalize press offences.
To the contrary, three journalists of the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, Alaa El-Ghatrifi, Youssef El-Aoumy and Abdel Nasser El-Zouheiry, were each sentenced on April 17 to a year in prison and fined 1,340 euros for libel, explains the report, They have appealed.
The regime was also responsible for violence against journalists throughout the year. On the day of the May 25 constitutional referendum, NDP activists and state security agents attacked a large number of women, including 10 Egyptian and three foreign journalists, ripping the clothes of some and groping and humiliating them. Some had to be hospitalized.
Such violence increased during the parliamentary elections held between November 9 and December 7. More than 50 journalists for local and foreign media, including Al-Jazeera, Associated Press, the BBC, Los Angeles Times, CNBC, Al-Arabiya, Reuters, Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Masry Al-Youm, AFP, El-Karameh, Al-Fajr, were harassed and jostled.
Even though the parliament passed a new set of publishing laws this year, many commentators don’t see a positive change. A study released by the Cairo-based Egyptian Organization for Human Rights explains that although the president s intervention to eliminate the prison sentence in one law article is admirable, there are other areas that require his intervention, especially since there have been several calls to amend these areas.