Egypt escalates crackdown on media ahead of election

President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s government has sought to exert heavy control over reporting on the March 26-28 election, where is is running virtually unopposed. (AP)
Updated 13 March 2018
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Egypt escalates crackdown on media ahead of election

CAIRO: Egyptian authorities have published a list of telephone numbers for citizens to use to bring to the attention of prosecutors any media reports they perceive as undermining the country’s security or hurting public interest.
The publication of the numbers — listed in a statement issued late on Monday by the office of Egypt’s chief prosecutor — is a step up in the government’s crackdown on the media, less than two weeks before the presidential election in which the incumbent, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, is running virtually unopposed.
Last week, chief prosecutor Nabil Sadeq told his staff to monitor the media and move against any they consider to be “hurting national interests.”
Monday’s statement, however, has potentially provided millions of Egyptians who support Sisi and his government with an official channel to complain against any media content critical of the authorities.
The statement listed eight mobile phone numbers for different parts of Egypt, advising citizens to send complaints on WhatsApp or as text messages. It instructed citizens to provide their personal details, along with their complaints, and said the move was a follow-up to Sadeq’s statement last week.
Sisi’s government has already sought to exert heavy control over reporting on the March 26-28 election, issuing guidelines barring journalists from asking people who they would vote for beforehand or from conducting any polling.
Authorities have also increasingly depicted criticism as a violation of national security at a time when Egypt is trying to revive its economy battered by years of turmoil and contain an insurgency by Islamic militants.
A general-turned-president, Sisi has worked to quiet much of the media, demanding everyone fall in line with his policies to restore stability. But the threat of prosecution is in contrast to mostly indirect methods used in the past to silence dissenters.
The state media and most privately-owned TV networks are loyal to Sisi and spearheaded by powerful talk show hosts who lavishly praise his policies, cover up failures and demonize critics.
Critical TV personalities have been taken off air and dozens of independent and Islamist news sites on the Internet have been blocked. With pro-government media sometimes depicting foreign press as promoting a negative image of Egypt, cameramen in the streets can sometimes face harassment from crowds or police.
Since the crackdown began, a pro-government talk show host was detained for two days for insulting the police on his state TV talk show in which he advocated for higher salaries for policemen.
Egypt’s State Information service has called on officials and the country’s “elite” to boycott the BBC after it broadcast a report on the repression of dissent under Sisi that addressed torture and forced disappearances. It has demanding an apology from the BBC and asked the broadcaster to confirm that its report contained inaccuracies.
Also this month, prosecutors ordered the detention of two journalists after their arrest while preparing a report on the historic tramway in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. In a separate case, the playwright and director of a play staged at a Cairo sports club were arrested for their involvement in a play seen as insulting to security forces.
Egyptian authorities have waged a fierce crackdown on Islamists since 2013, when Sisi as defense minister led the military’s ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist whose one year in office proved divisive. Thousands of Islamists have been arrested, and the campaign has also targeted secular pro-democracy activists, many of whom are now in prison.
Sisi has said he wants to build a modern and democratic state but has also said liberties must take a backseat to ensuring stability and fighting terror.


Twitter warns global users their tweets violate Pakistani law

Updated 11 December 2018
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Twitter warns global users their tweets violate Pakistani law

  • Pakistan has previously threatened to block Twitter if the company did not remove content its government found offensive
  • Pakistan banned Facebook for hosting allegedly blasphemous content for two weeks in 2010 while YouTube was unavailable from 2012 to 2016 over an amateur film about the Prophet Muhammad that led to global riots

WASHINGTON: When Canadian columnist Anthony Furey received an email said to be from Twitter’s legal team telling him he may have broken a slew of Pakistani laws, his first instinct was to dismiss it as spam.
But after Googling the relevant sections of Pakistan’s penal code, the Toronto Sun op-ed editor was startled to learn he stood accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad — a crime punishable by death in the Islamic republic — and Twitter later confirmed the correspondence was genuine.
His perceived offense was to post cartoons of the prophet several years ago.
Furey and two prominent critics of extremism in Islam say they are “shocked” to have received notices by the social media giant this past week over alleged violations of Islamabad’s laws, despite having no apparent connection to the South Asian country.
They say the notices amount to an effort to stifle their voices — a charge Twitter denies, arguing the notices came about as a result of “valid requests from an authorized entity,” understood to mean Pakistan, helped users “to take measures to protect their interests,” and the process is not unique to any one country.
But Furey is the third prominent user in the space of days to publicly complain about receiving a message linked to Pakistan.
The other two are Saudi-Canadian activist Ensaf Haidar and Imam Mohammad Tawhidi, a progressive Muslim scholar from Australia who was born in Iran.
Both are outspoken critics of religious extremism and have accused the social media giant of helping to silence progressive ideas within Islam.
Furey, who detailed his experience in a column for his newspaper on Saturday, told AFP: “I’m somewhat alarmed that Twitter would even allow a country to make a complaint like this, as it almost validates their absurd blasphemy laws.”
The tweet in question was a collage of cartoons of Mohammad that he posted four years ago.
“Looking back, I remember I did it right after there had been an Daesh-inspired attack in retaliation over the cartoons,” Furey wrote in his column, adding he had not posted similar material before or since.
Tawhidi meanwhile was sent a similar notice flagging a tweet that called on Australian police to investigate extremism in mosques following a deadly knife attack in Melbourne in November.
The scholar attached the legal notice sent to him by Twitter informing him of possible violations of Pakistani law, and tweeted: “I am not from Pakistan nor am I a Pakistani citizen.
“Pakistan has no authority over what I say. Get out of here.”
Reached for comment, a spokesperson for Twitter told AFP: “In our continuing effort to make our services available to people everywhere, if we receive a valid requests from an authorized entity, it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time.”
The spokesperson added: “We notify users so that they have the opportunity to review the legal request, and the option to take measures to protect their interests.”
Pakistan has previously threatened to block Twitter if the company did not remove content its government found offensive.
It banned Facebook for hosting allegedly blasphemous content for two weeks in 2010 while YouTube was unavailable from 2012 to 2016 over an amateur film about the Prophet Muhammad that led to global riots.
Furey told AFP that although he was taken aback by the notice, “I’m at least glad they brought it to my attention that the Pakistan government has their eye on me.”
But he added: “One troubling consequence to all of this is that even people in countries without these blasphemy laws may start to self-censor for fear of the reach foreign governments will have over them in the online world.”