FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights) deplores the increasing crackdown against freedom of expression in Egypt and is alarmed to recall that if under the 30 year rule of former president Hosni Mubarak, 4 cases were filed for "insulting the President", during the first 6 months of President Morsy's rule alone, at least 24 cases and complaints have been filed, 3 of them filed by the Egyptian Presidency itself, against journalists and political opponents.
"Freedom of expression is an essential core value to a true democratic society. These decisions by the Egyptian authorities constitute a blatant infringement on this right and consequently disclaim any sign of willingness to move toward democratic transition" declared Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President.
Over the past two days, the Public Prosecutor referred CBC Channel's satirist Bassem Youssef, Albert Shafiq, ON TV manager, Gaber El Qarmouty, ONTV presenter, and Shaimaa Abul Kheir, a consultant for the International Committee to Protect Journalists' Rights to the State Security Court. Youssef is charged with insulting the presidency and religion, spreading false news, while the others are charged with publishing false news, threatening security and disturbing peace. Last week, TV hosts Amr Adib and Lamis El Hadidi were also referred to State Security Court on charges of inciting chaos and threatening national security. In addition, the state investment body, the General Authority for Investment threatened CBC channel to withdraw its registration if Youssef's show "Al Bernameg", a weekly satirical show, is not changed, citing violations with the "standards of the media free zone" .
According to Shaimaa Abul Kheir, who made a phone intervention on ONTV on March 31st, on the interrogation of Bassem Youssef by the Public Prosecutor , which she attended as a representative of her organization, "none of us, who are currently prosecuted, were officially summoned by any judicial body; we got all the information about the charges against us from the media".
FIDH is all the more concerned that the case filed against Shaimaa Abul Kheir may be an indication of extra-pressure exerted on human rights groups and organizations to deter them from denouncing the crackdown on freedom of expression and other human rights violations by subjecting them to prosecution.
The swift process of investigation of the complaints filed by the Union of Egyptian lawyers against the TV presenters and Abul Kheir, as well as the swift referral of the cases to the State security court further question the credibility of the entire procedure.
This crackdown on journalists comes against the backdrop of a general hostile environment for freedom of expression. Indeed, on 24 March Islamist groups surrounded the Media Production City where they prevented journalists from entering the area, and attacked several TV guests, including Hafez Abu Seada, the president of FIDH member organization in Egypt, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights. On March 21st, several protesters and journalists, including one female protester who was slapped on the face, were attacked by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Moqattam, a neighborhood of Cairo where their headquarters is located.
Journalists are not the only victims of this latest crackdown, as political opponents and human rights defenders are being targeted as well. On March 26th, the Public Prosecution ordered the arrest of 5 activists, including human rights defender and blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, on charges of inciting violence in the context of the clashes in front of the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters on March 22nd, after his name was mentionned on Twitter.
"It is particularly worrying that the Public Prosecution has not ordered the arrest of those who used violence against others during the recent incidents, particularly from the side of the Muslim Brotherhood" stated Belhassen. "Instead of referring cases of freedom of expression to extraordinary courts, the Public Prosecution should focus its efforts on investigating the intermittent violent episodes, and bring those responsible to justice" added Belhassen.
Furthermore, FIDH deplores that, despite the guarantees set-forth by the new Egyptian constitution and the ending of the 30 year long state of emergency, the use of State Security courts continues and recalls that Article 45 of the constitution guarantees that "Every individual has the right to express an opinion and to disseminate it verbally, in writing or illustration, or by any other means of publication and expression" and Article 75 states that "no person shall be tried except before their natural judge; exceptional courts are prohibited."
FIDH is highly concerned by the resort to exceptional courts, as these courts offer no guarantees of the right to fair trial or due process, and have historically been used by the former regime in an arbitrary manner to sanction political dissent.