The International Press Institute (IPI) has expressed its alarm over the Egyptian government’s response to this weekend’s popular protests. The global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists campaigns for press freedom around the world and made its comments in a press release.
The IPI said that it is concerned that foreign journalists may lose accreditation solely because of their coverage of the public demonstrations. The network “expressed grave concern” over what it described as “efforts by the Egyptian government to hinder the free flow of news and information in the wake of recent protests against President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s rule.”
Their fears were raised in the wake of fresh protests which began on Friday. Thousands of Egyptians took to the streets to express their frustration over the government of Al-Sisi. The images evoked memories of the Arab Spring and Egypt’s January 26th Revolution which deposed former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Demonstrations were sparked off by an online campaign launched by an Egyptian businessman living in self-imposed exile in Spain. Mohamed Ali’s videos claiming widespread corruption in the government and urging people to protest have gone viral. Others have followed Ali and posted their own videos, with their faces covered, describing their own experience of government corruption.
Officers in Egypt’s military have also been reported to be calling on citizens to take to the streets and bring an end to the Sisi regime.
The protests have been met with threats by officials. The Egyptian authorities began their clampdown by censoring several media website, including BBC Arabic, for reporting news about the demonstrations.
According to IPI, the government body which accredits foreign correspondents in Egypt issued a veiled threat to the media on 22 September. The State Information Service is reported to have warned that it is “monitoring” coverage of the protests to ensure that the media abides by “professional codes”. The statement also cautioned that social media should not be considered a source of news because of “fake accounts and fabrication”.
According to the IPI’s Director of Advocacy, the official statement is a clear threat to the foreign media covering the latest protests in Egypt. “It is a blatant attempt to prevent the flow of critical news,” explained Ravi R Prasad. “President Al-Sisi has effectively silenced the national press and now he is going after the foreign journalists. The message is clear: foreign journalists’ accreditation may be withdrawn if they do not toe the government’s line.”
The IPI said that Egyptian security forces had arrested the brother of Wael Ghonim, an activist who lives in exile in the US and was instrumental in the 2011 protests for democracy. The institute’s press release also mentioned the fate of three dozen journalists who are currently imprisoned by the Egyptian authorities, including Al Sayed Mohamed Omar Toufic, also known as Ismail Alexandrani, Moataz Wadnan and Mahmoud Hussein of Al Jazeera. The journalists’ families are said to be afraid to speak up because of the fear of reprisals by the Sisi regime.
“Egypt,” claimed the IPI, “has systematically denied journalists rights to due process and a fair trial, holding them for years without official charges and denying them the right to legal counsel.”