On May 24, 2017, 21 news agencies’ websites* were blocked by the Egyptian authorities for “spreading lies” and “supporting terrorism.” The authorities made no official statement and did not inform the news agencies of their decision nor of its grounds. These websites, all known for being critical of the government, remain inaccessible from inside Egypt. The websites of several human rights organisations, including Alkarama and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, have also been targeted by Egyptian authorities.
All targeted news agencies saw their websites blocked by the Egyptian authorities shortly after they had been blocked by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates following the diplomatic crisis with Qatar.
These websites, some of which are hosted abroad, are known for being critical of the government, affiliated with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, or supposedly funded by Qatar. All became inaccessible from inside Egypt within a few hours of the decision being made.
The news that some websites had become inaccessible leaked through monitoring websites and Twitter, before being confirmed by national internet providers. While no official statement was made by the authorities, the State-run agency Mena later announced that the blockade was decided on the grounds that these websites were “spreading lies” and “supporting terrorism.”
A few days later, the authorities stated that they will take legal action against the 21 news websites. However, none of the targeted news agencies were informed of any complaint filed against them.
On May 31, 2017, a list of the blocked websites and the grounds behind the measure was published for the first time on the website of the “Al Youm Al Saba’a” news agency, known for its close ties with the Egyptian authorities and security services.
The decision was strongly criticised by the Egyptian civil society as well as the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate, both of which denounced “another grave violation of their right to freedom of expression” on social media under the hashtag #حجب_الحقيقة (#blocking the truth)
“This decision of the Egyptian authorities constitutes another form of repression against journalists in the country and a means to silence dissenting voices, in violation of their right to freedom of expression,” said Radidja Nemar, Regional Legal Officer for North Africa at Alkarama. “Over the past few years, several journalists have been arrested and prosecuted for publishing articles in opposition to, or critical of the government’s policies; many of them even saw their names included on “terrorist” lists,” she added.
The case of the 21 targeted news agencies was brought to the attention of the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression (SRFRDX) and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism (SRCT), calling on them to urge the Egyptian authorities to ensure the block on the above-mentioned websites be lifted.
*The 21 news agencies targeted are:
- RASSD (رصد)
- Al Araby (العربي الجديد)
- Cairo Portal (بوابة القاهرة)
- Mada Masr (مدى مصر)
- HuffPost Arabi (هافبوست عربي)
- Hamas online (حماس أون لاين)
- Al Maseryoon (المصريون)
- Ikhwan online (الإخوان المسلمون)
- Noon Post (نون بوست)
- Al Sharq (بوابة الشرق الإلكترونية)
- Al Watan (الوطن)
- Al Raya (الراية)
- Al Arab (العرب )
- Qatar News Agency (وكالة الأنباء القطرية)
- Al Jazeera (الجزيرة)
- El Shaab Newspaper (جريدة الشعب الجديد)
- Houriya Post (حرية بوست)
- Ida2at (إضاءات)
- Hamas Egypt (حركة سواعد مصر/ حسم)
- Masr Al Arabiya (مصر العربية)
- Arabi 21 (عربي 21)
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