Egyptian journalists face threats, illegal arrest

The Community to Protect Journalists (CPJ) sheds light on “deplorable” state
of press freedom in Egypt, where the government decides who can or
cannot be a journalist.

journos against cops in Egypt protest

Police clash with protesters and journalists during a Cairo rally last
month. (Photo by AP)

A CPJ blog entry by Mohamed Abdel Dayem reports:

“Judging by what’s transpired in recent weeks, press freedom in Egypt is in a deplorable state. To hear that Egyptian police abused and illegally detained peaceful protestors who took to the streets on April 6 is par for the course. To read that police and plainclothes thugs also beat and detained journalists, confiscating and destroying video footage and notes, is revolting but, unfortunately, quite predictable. But to learn that elements of the state security apparatus may also have posed as journalists to monitor civil society and opposition activists marks a new low for the Egyptian state.”

An Editors Weblog post says:

“The Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate has very restrictive membership guidelines, says Dayem, which denies plenty of qualified journalists proper state recognition to operate. Google searches for the Syndicate’s guidelines turned a limited number of results, but the Syndicate has been known to refuse membership to independent journalists who could qualify. In 2008, over forty journalists from an independent Egyptian daily went on a hunger strike after they were denied membership to the Syndicate. In 2008, the journalists of the Al-Badeel Daily were denied membership as well, “despite their professionalism.” When journalists who are not part of the syndicate write stories that offend businessmen or politicians, they are sued for “impersonating real journalists.” If found guilty, these charges can lead up to three years of prison or heavy fines for journalists.

“Besides a restrictive membership that leaves journalists without any protection, the Syndicate’s leadership has been known to be quite sympathetic towards repressive rulers, namely those who do not support a free and healthy press. Last week, the Syndicate’s chief, Makram Mohamed Ahmad presented an award to Tunisian President, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali for “defending press freedom in the Arab world.”

“However, Dayem notes that Ben Ali’s track record is far from press friendly. In the last couple of years, Ben Ali instigated the overthrow of the democratically elected board of the National Syndicate of Journalists of Tunisian Journalists, lambasted Al-Jazeera for criticizing Tunisian policies, and imprisoned a number of anti-government journalists.

“This is not too surprising for a country which is known for a less-than-perfect press freedom record. In January 2010, Reporters without Borders ranked Egypt a low 143 out of 175 countries for the year of 2009. Even though Egypt’s position on the list improved in relation to the year before, Egypt came in after a number of other Arab countries, such as Kuwait, Lebanon, UAE, Qatar, Mauritania, Morocco, and Algeria.”