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ARAB REPUBLIC OF EGYPT: Dozens of news sites blocked as Egypt ramps up digital censorship

21 Jun 2017
[International Secretariat]

The Egyptian authorities have shifted their onslaught against media freedom to the digital sphere, blocking access to more than 40 news sites without justification in recent weeks, in an attempt to eliminate the country’s last remaining spaces for criticism and free expression, said Amnesty International.

At least 63 websites have been blocked in total since 24 May according to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, including 48 news sites.

“The latest clampdown on digital media is further evidence of Egypt’s age-old police state tactics in motion. Even in the darkest days of the repressive Mubarak era the authorities didn’t cut off access to all independent news sites,” said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty International’s North Africa Campaigns director.

On 24 May, state media announced that Egyptian authorities had blocked a group of websites. The authorities failed to provide any evidence of illegal activity or to clarify the legal basis for the decision. Instead officials made vague statements to the media saying this was in connection with “publishing false information” and “supporting terrorism”.

The legal grounds and authority the government has used to block these sites is ambiguous and it remains unclear whether emergency law provisions were applied. There are, however, a number of Egyptian laws that can be used to censor the media and the internet, on the grounds of national security.

After the bombing of two churches in Tanta and Alexandria in April 2017, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency.
Under emergency laws, the authorities have broad powers to impose surveillance and censorship on media.

The vaguely worded articles of Egypt’s counterterrorism law also allow punishments of up to 15 years in prison for establishing a website for the purpose of promoting “terrorist ideas” and grant the authorities the power to block websites suspected of promoting “terrorism”.

Two of the blocked websites, Daily News Egypt and Elborsa, belong to the Business News Company, which is licensed by the government. In November 2016, the government froze the company’s assets under the pretext that it belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood, without providing evidence to support this claim.

13 June 2017

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