5 June 2014

Africa: Open Letter to Egypt's New President

press release

Photo: Kenya Journalists for Peter Greste
Kenyan journalists support colleagues detained in Egypt (file photo).

Reporters Without Borders has written to Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who is to be installed as Egypt's new president this weekend following his poll victory at the end of last month. The letter urges him to guarantee freedom of the press and information and to free all detained journalists.

President-Elect Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi Cairo Egypt

Paris, 5 June 2014

Dear President-Elect Sisi,

As the Arab Republic of Egypt's newly elected president, you will be the Egyptian constitution's guarantor for the next four years and it will be your duty to guarantee the fundamental freedom of all Egyptian citizens and foreign citizens residing in your country.

Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that defends freedom of information, would therefore like to share with you its concerns about the current state of freedom of information in Egypt, three years after President Hosni Mubarak's departure.

The new constitution approved by referendum in January was a step in the right direction, as it guarantees freedom of the media, freedom of assembly and the right to demonstrate, along with other rights and freedoms. It could help Egypt along the road to democracy as long as the articles on fundamental freedoms, especially articles 70 and 71, are strictly applied as the constitution envisages.

However, despite these legal guarantees, journalists have to deal with a very different reality. Six journalists have been killed in the course of their work, with complete impunity, since President Mohamed Morsi's removal by the military and the installation of a transitional government under your leadership in July 2013. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Egypt was one of the three deadliest countries for journalists in 2013.

At the same time, journalists affiliated or regarded as sympathetic to the now banned Muslim Brotherhood have been systematically hounded. This witch-hunt against the Brotherhood continues to target not only Egyptian journalists but also Turkish, Palestinian and Syrian ones, in violation of the new constitution's provisions. The authorities use trumped-up charges to keep them in detention. More than 60 journalists have been arrested for varying periods of time, news media have been censored and some have been closed.

Seventeen journalists, including four Al-Jazeera staffers, are currently detained arbitrarily in Egypt. Three of the Al-Jazeera journalists - Peter Greste (an Australian), Mohamed Adel Fahmy (who has Canadian and Egyptian dual citizenship) and Baher Mohamed (an Egyptian) - have been held since 29 December and are accused of broadcasting reports "endangering national security" and of "possession of Muslim Brotherhood publications." The fourth, reporter Abdullah Al-Shami, has been held since 14 August without any formal charge being brought against him. He began a hunger strike on 21 January.

Reporters Without Borders reminds you that, like other citizens, journalists must be treated fairly and justly, in ways that respect national and international judicial standards.

It is your responsibility to ensure that journalists receive the protection they need to report the news freely and safely, especially while covering demonstrations and protests. The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on 28 March on the promotion and protection of human rights during peaceful protests. This resolution (A/HRC/25/L.20) recognized the importance of the role that journalists play by covering protests, and urged all governments to pay particular attention to their safety.

We also think it is crucial that pluralism in news reporting and opinion, which has suffered badly during the past three years, should become a reality. Respect for media pluralism is the foundation stone of democratic values.

We are therefore very disturbed by the 2 June announcement that TV satirist Bassem Youssef's famous programme El-Bernameg was cancelled as a result of pressure from the authorities, and by the ban on any further articles by the writer Nader Al-Fergany in the Al-Ahram newspaper following a series of columns critical of you.

At the same time, the behaviour of some journalists during the elections - accusing those who had failed to vote of being "traitors to the nation" - was indicative of a lack of neutrality and independence.

The Internet has not been spared by the hostile climate and we are very concerned by the interior ministry's recent of announcement of a bill creating a new entity that would monitor social networks for security risks as part of its mission to prevent and combat cyber-crime. This new surveillance entity constitutes a serious threat to freedom of information and expression and could become a censorship tool.

Although aware of the many challenges you face, we ask you as Egypt's president to ensure that the new constitution is properly implemented and that Egypt respects its international obligations as regards fundamental freedoms, especially freedom of information. Sincerely,

Christophe Deloire

Reporters Without Borders secretary-general

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