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UN raises 'grave concerns' about Egypt's assault on free speech

Journalists take part in a protest outside the Syndicate of Journalists in Cairo, Egypt [AFP/Getty]

The UN has raised grave concerns about Egypt's ongoing assault on freedom of expression including the blocking of hundreds of websites and the detention of journalists in the country.

"The situation for journalism and freedom of expression and access to information in Egypt has been in crisis for several years," said UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye and Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism Fionnuala Ní Aloáin.

"It takes many forms, including the unlawful detention and harassment of journalists and activists," they added.

The Egyptian government has justified the shutting down of a number of websites by accusing them of spreading lies and supporting terrorism. In total some 130 websites have been blocked including MadaMasr, RASSD, Al-Watan, Al-Borsa and Huffpost Arabi.

The human rights organisations Reporters without Borders, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information and the Alkarama Foundation have also been affected.

Without transparency of "the asserted lies or terrorism" this looks "more like repression than counter-terrorism," said Kaye and Ní Aloáin.

The experts pointed out that there is no evidence that blocking websites would meet the tests of international human rights law and that the blockings "lack any form of transparency" and have "extremely limited, if any, judicial control".


Since the 2013 coup Egypt's assault on freedom of expression has intensified. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 12 journalists have been killed in Egypt since 1992, 11 since 2011 and the majority of these in 2013. Two were targeted for murder and two were murdered with impunity.

In 2015 the CPJ declared that Egypt was second only to China as the world's worst jailer of journalists. Last year Reporters Without Borders urged the government to release at least 32 reporters said to be detained in the country.

On Monday journalist Abdulla Rashad who works for Al-Bawaba News disappeared on his way home from work. It is thought that he was taken to a police station in the Dokki area of Cairo but the interior ministry denies arresting or detaining him.

Read more: 378 enforced disappearances in Egypt within a year

Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein has been detained since last December without trial. He has been denied medical care where he is being held at the notorious Tora prison despite the fact that his arm urgently needs to be operated on.

Earlier this month Egyptian journalist Abdulrahman Ezz was briefly detained by German authorities at Berlin's Schoenfeld Airport over an Interpol arrest warrant issued by Cairo.

The Egyptian government has also just added the names of over 300 people, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood, to a list of terrorists who will potentially be banned from travelling and have their assets frozen.

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