Amnesty reports chilling details of Egypt press crackdown

Amnesty International says that journalism in Egypt has effectively become a crime over the past four years, as authorities clamp down on media outlets and muzzle dissent. (File/AP)
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Updated 03 May 2020

Amnesty reports chilling details of Egypt press crackdown

  • As the number of coronavirus infections in Egypt continues to rise, the government is strengthening its control over information
  • Amnesty documented 37 cases of journalists detained in the government’s escalating crackdown on press freedoms

CAIRO: Journalism in Egypt has effectively become a crime over the past four years, as authorities clamp down on media outlets and muzzle dissent, Amnesty International said in a report released Sunday.
As the number of coronavirus infections in Egypt continues to rise, the government is strengthening its control over information, the London-based rights group said, instead of upholding transparency during the public health crisis.
“The Egyptian authorities have made it very clear that anyone who challenges the official narrative will be severely punished,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director.
Amnesty documented 37 cases of journalists detained in the government’s escalating crackdown on press freedoms, many charged with “spreading false news” or “misusing social media” under a broad 2015 counterterrorism law that has expanded the definition of terror to include all kinds of dissent.
An Egyptian press officer did not respond to multiple calls seeking comment, but authorities have previously denied rights violations and justified arrests on national security grounds.
Following general-turned-president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s rise to power in 2013, most of Egypt’s television programs and newspapers have taken the government position and steered clear of criticism, or else disappeared. Many privately owned Egyptian news outlets have been quietly acquired by companies affiliated with the country’s intelligence service.
But even a pro-government voice hasn’t spared 12 journalists working for state-owned media outlets, who have landed in jail for expressing various private views on social media, the report said.
One of them is Atef Hasballah, editor-in-chief of the AlkararPress website. When he challenged the Health Ministry’s coronavirus case count on his Facebook page last month, he was promptly bundled into a police van and detained on suspicion of “joining a terrorist organization.”
Egypt’s public prosecutor warned in a recent statement that those who spread “false news” about the coronavirus may face up to five years imprisonment and steep fines. At least 12 individuals have been caught up in the COVID-19-motivated crackdown so far, according to Amnesty. Last month, authorities blocked a local news site that covered calls by activists to release political prisoners over fears of the coronavirus spreading in Egypt’s crowded prisons. Separately, Egypt expelled a correspondent for The Guardian newspaper over an article that indicated the coronavirus infection rate may be higher than officially reported.
The journalists interviewed by Amnesty reported increasingly direct state intervention in their coverage. Many working for government-owned or aligned papers said they receive specific instructions via WhatsApp on what to report and to omit. For instance, a directive on how to handle President Trump’s proposal to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict this year asked reporters not to mention the plan’s violations of long-standing Arab policies, as Trump and El-Sisi have cultivated close ties.
Those who do not hew the official line, such as by praising prison conditions and smearing the state’s political opponents, “lost their jobs, were interrogated or imprisoned,” one journalist was quoted as saying. “I cannot even imagine that someone could refuse to comply.”
Marking World Press Freedom Day, Amnesty urged Egyptian authorities to halt their censorship, harassment and intimidation of journalists — and to release those detained “solely for carrying out their work.”


Arab News post-debate panelists: No clear winner between Biden and Trump

Updated 30 September 2020

Arab News post-debate panelists: No clear winner between Biden and Trump

  • Arab News correspondents Ray Hanania and Ephrem Kossaify, joined by veteran Arab American journalists Dalia Al-Aqidi and Warren David

 

CHICAGO: An Arab News panel of four distinguished Arab-American journalists and writers concluded Tuesday evening that there was “no clear winner” in the first of three debates between President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
Trump and Biden took the stage in a 90-minute sparring match held at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and moderated by “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace.
Arab News panelists included Dalia Al-Aqidi, a former congressional candidate in Minnesota and award-winning international journalist and commentator covering foreign affairs; and Warren David, president of ArabAmerica.com, a networking website that disseminates events, news, music and culture.

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AS IT HAPPENED: Trump, Biden in heated and chaotic presidential debate

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The discussion was moderated by Arab News New York correspondent Ephrem Kossaify, who has covered American elections since 2004, interviewing former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush.
It was emceed by Ray Hanania, a veteran Chicago City Hall political writer who is Arab News’s US special correspondent and columnist.
“I don’t think anybody won,” Al-Aqidi said. “I don’t think this debate made any impact on undecided voters … It wasn’t a debate. It was boring at one point. So I don’t think there was a winner.”
David said the president was “bullying” during the debate. “Trump didn’t follow the rules of the presidential debate, and I think Biden somehow won because Trump was out of control,” David added.
Kossaify said: “We’ve never seen a debate like this one. It was more of a brawl than a debate. There was hope that somehow we’d rise above the chaos tonight, but I don’t think we really did. It was very chaotic throughout.”
Hanania noted that Biden called Trump many names, including “liar”, “clown” and “racist,” while the president spent much time interrupting Biden as he responded to questions, to the point where Wallace reprimanded Trump for violating the rules that were agreed upon by his campaign not to interrupt.
“But Biden did something no one expected. He didn’t stumble … They brought up he was too old to be president, and did he have the mental capacity. He proved he does,” Hanania said.
“Trump on the other hand, I don’t think he was mean as many people thought he’d be, other than using the term ‘Pocahontas’ one time in the beginning. He didn’t call anyone fat. He didn’t insult women. He didn’t insult Biden.”
All agreed that no clear, single issue stood out from either candidate. “It was the same thing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth,” David said.
“I was really disappointed in Wallace. He really came after the president several times, and Biden but more after Trump.”
Panelists agreed that the president interrupted Biden frequently, earning reprimands from Wallace.
What was most memorable of the 90-minute debate? “Biden managed to stay on stage for 96 minutes. The bar is so low for Biden, it was an achievement for him to stay straight for 96 minutes,” Al-Aqidi said.
“I think the biggest failure was Wallace. We didn’t hear clear questions … and he didn’t let us hear the answers. There were very important issues that needed to be discussed, but he couldn’t get a clear answer from both.”
The debate was broken up into short two-minute statements from each candidate on a topic, followed by several minutes of open debate, but it appeared chaotic at times.
The first question was on the appointment of a Supreme Court justice to succeeded Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in September.
Other topics included the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy, what Wallace described as “race and violence in American cities,” and the integrity of the elections.
“Every issue discussed tonight is very crucial to what’s happening tonight — the Supreme Court nomination to fill the gap of the late Judge Ginsburg and what that would entail; in terms of health care that affects every American; abortion rights; women rights. Everything is in the balance,” said Kossaify.
David said: “This is the most important election in this country … 2020 has had so many issues, starting with COVID-19 and civil rights issues, and starting with impeachment at the beginning of the year … health care, the divisiveness — all of that and the Supreme Court, Roe vs Wade, all these big issues … We can’t afford to have a debate like this because our lives are on the line.”