Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator at Committee to Protect Journalists, Sherif Mansour, spoke to DNE about the dangers facing journalists working in Egypt, as well as ways to improve their status.
1- What are the main dangers facing reporters in Egypt?
Street violence and political [divisions] are undermining the safety of journalists, and at the same time wasting any chance for solidarity with them when they get in trouble because of their work. This year, Egypt was for the first time ranked third in our census for deadliest countries in the world and among top ten jailers of journalists worldwide.
2- Has there been any change in the dangers facing reporters since Morsi’s ouster?
The impunity factor in attacks against journalists has been unprecedented since Morsi was ousted. Five journalists were killed in a few months under the current military-led government while doing their work. This is compared to two who were killed under Morsi’s one year tenure and two under Mubarak’s 30-year tenure.
3- What is the worst case CPJ has documented in Egypt?
Outside of killings of journalists, the arrest of dual Canadian-Egyptian journalists, and of Mohamed Fahmy, who worked with Al Jazeera, is the most concerning. Fahmy was arrested for accusation of being part of a “terrorist cell” along with three of his colleagues more than two weeks ago. He was kept in a windowless room, filled with cockroaches, without a bed in Cairo’s notorious A’qrab (Scorpion) Prison. His pre-existing shoulder injury has been exacerbated by his arrest and incarceration. Fahmy has so far been refused medical assistance. Prison authorities have also refused to deliver to Fahmy a sleeping bag and pillow delivered by his family. A family member who recently visited the prison said that Fahmy was specifically put with jihadists inmates. They said he looked disoriented and struggled to recognise them at first. Fahmy’s family fears he is being subject to physical and psychological abuse.
4- What do you think of the Ministry of Interior’s treatment of reporters?
The Ministry of Interior has been given free hand to go after anyone who is deemed by the government as sympathetic to the Brotherhood, or as working for outlets from countries which criticised Morsi’s ouster. Now, with the government declaration of Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation, they also are using this charge, terrorism, to target journalists. Since the 3 July removal of President Mohamed Morsi, at least 45 journalists has been assaulted, 11 news outlets raided, and a staggering 44 journalists were detailed. All those journalists were held without official charges, in pre-trial procedures that sometimes go for months, and in the worst conditions. Today, at least seven journalists remain behind bars. As one journalist who is currently in custody told his family, “In Egypt right now, you are guilty until proven otherwise.”
5- What are the steps that should be taken to protect reporters in Egypt? And what do you think of the Press Syndicate’s role in this issue?
Egypt is going through a crucial time, as millions of Egyptians cast their vote on the constitutional amendments referendum. The vote [was] seen more than anything as a vote of confidence in the current regime and its roadmap to democracy after they ousted President Morsi in July. This is an opportunity for all local, regional and international stakeholders to send this unified message to the Egyptian government: the unprecedented waves of attacks against journalists need to stop immediately. The witch-hunt against journalists cannot go unpunished. Those who perpetrated the killings of journalists need to be held accountable and brought to justice. Those who are in custody because of their work should be released without delay and without conditions.
We heard this message coming loud and clear from within Egypt today [13 January]. The Freedoms Committee in the Egyptian journalists syndicate issued a statement today saying that arresting Aljazeera English journalists is “distorting Egypt’s image abroad” and is considered to be “a clear evidence of the oppression policy against any opposing views.” Also today more than dozens of correspondents and editors representing over 30 international media organisations are calling for the immediate release of journalists detained in Egypt. The statement highlights concerns by the international press over media freedom in Egypt and the ability of journalists to do their work without fear of arrest.
It is time that the Egyptian governments respond to those increasing demands and for the international community, including international media, policy makers, and international organisations to pressure the Egyptian government to live up to their responsibilities and obligations to the world to protect the rights and freedoms of their its citizens.