UNESCO launched a global campaign this year called “Journalism without fear or favor” to celebrate journalists on World Press Freedom Day on May 3. But in Egypt, the celebration had a different taste with more restrictions inflicted on journalists.
On May 12, the Egyptian Supreme Council for Media Regulation banned journalists and contributors to any newspaper or website under its control from using a pseudonym without obtaining its written approval.
The decision obliges press organizations to submit an application to the council explaining the duration and purpose of use of the pseudonym, in addition to the author’s real name and personal data.
The decision was added to a list of regulations issued in September 2019 by the council setting forth binding rules for all media and newspapers.
This list includes provisions under the titles of controls and standards to ensure compliance of media organizations with the principles of the journalism profession.
These include not providing content that would harm society’s public interest and its religious institutions and beliefs; that incite violence, discrimination and hatred; or that threaten national security.
Rights groups claim the government is exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to tighten its grip on the country. On May 7, Sisi approved amendments to the country’s Emergency Law, and gave himself and the security services additional powers.
The government claimed tougher measures are necessary to address the legal vacuum and prevent the spread of the disease.
On March 17, as the coronavirus began spreading in Egypt, the authorities revoked the license of a British correspondent at The Guardian, after publication of a scientific study on the number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
Repressive measures affected local journalists as well. On May 17, Lina Attalah, editor-in-chief of the independent Mada Masr newspaper, was detained in front of a Cairo prison as she interviewed the mother of an imprisoned activist. She was later released on bail.
On May 11, security services arrested Haisam Hasan Mahgoub, a journalist at Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, on charges of financing a terrorist group and spreading false news.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based watchdog, linked Mahgoub’s arrest to his recent coverage of humanitarian stories related to the coronavirus crisis.
Nassif lamented the deplorable state of freedom of expression in Egypt. “This will only change when foreign governments step up pressure on the Egyptian government,” he concluded.