Al-Jazeera Net correspondents
Cairo – The head of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate, Khaled El Balshy, documented the authorities’ blocking of two new news websites, and said that this came in conjunction with the start of the national dialogue sessions today, Sunday.
Al-Balshi explained that the two blocked websites are “The Fourth Authority” and “Egypt 360”, adding, “We were surprised, on our way to the National Dialogue Hall, that two websites were blocked, and this is a clear contradiction that reflects the atmosphere that governs the work of journalists,” according to his description.
This came during the intervention of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate during the session of the Human Rights and Public Freedoms Committee in the national dialogue, which was dedicated to discussing the Freedom of Information Act.
Al-Balshi also considered that “it is not permissible to talk about a law for the freedom of information circulation, while the public sphere is governed by legislation that blocks information and its means of transmission, including press websites, and threatens its publisher with imprisonment, or even imprisons him,” adding, “It is not permissible to impose silence on others, even if It was enforced by law.”
He announced that he participated in the national dialogue sessions, as an expression of the desire of the General Assembly of the Journalists Syndicate, which instructed him to present its vision, fears, and hopes, that the press return as a true gateway to carrying information, and expanding the spaces of freedom and expression in this society.
Imprisonment of journalists
The head of the Journalists Syndicate, Khaled Al-Balshi, spoke of the existence of “more fears than hopes,” and called for the passage of a law that guarantees freedom of information and access to it, as it is “a right of the whole society, and not of the press group alone.”
Al-Balshi also went on to say that “the right to knowledge does not stop at being a right, but it is a tool to activate the exercise of other rights, such as education, health and free litigation,” noting that it is the duty of the state to allow its citizens the right to access information.
The Syndicate of Journalists took advantage of the opportunity to speak before the National Dialogue, and called for the abolition of custodial penalties in publishing and publicity cases, in implementation of Article 71 of the Constitution, which stipulates that “no custodial penalty shall be imposed for crimes committed by publication or publicity, as for crimes related to incitement to violence.” or by discriminating between citizens or defaming the dignity of individuals, the penalties for which shall be determined by the law.
In this context, Al-Balshi called for lifting the ban on websites that were blocked during the past years, reviewing the laws that open the door to blocking, and amending the articles of pretrial detention in the Code of Criminal Procedure, which turned the precautionary measure into a punishment that was implemented on many journalists and opinion-makers during the past years.
He also called for the release of imprisoned journalists, and the release of prisoners of conscience who were not involved in violence or incitement to it.
In this regard, he said, “We are facing a bureaucracy that is dominated by the mentality of withholding. The overwhelming majority of state institutions and their bureaucratic and administrative bodies consider that the principle in matters is withholding information, not disclosing and circulating it freely, and that information belongs to the state and not to the citizen.”
On the other hand, the head of the Technical Secretariat of the National Dialogue, Counselor Mahmoud Fawzi, said that the authority entrusted with issuing decisions to block press websites is the Supreme Council for Media Regulation.
Fawzi added that any decision issued by the Supreme Council may be appealed, and some of the sites that were said to have been blocked, such as the “Fourth Authority”, we do not know if they are licensed or not, and this matter will be considered, indicating that the blocking may come for technical reasons as well.
The head of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, Medhat Al-Zahed, expressed his deep regret at blocking the “Fourth Estate” website, indicating that the website and its editorial staff are fully committed to the applicable standards, and that they have not committed any legal violations or professional abuses.
Al-Zahed said, “We hope that the series of blocking news websites will stop, especially as we are going through the year of the presidential elections, which is the year that is supposed to witness more openness to freedoms, and to witness a plurality of opinions, so that public opinion is the real rule, but what is happening is the opposite, as we are witnessing More restrictions by blocking a professional website such as the Fourth Authority website.
Al-Zahed indicated that the Alliance Party had welcomed the lifting of the blocking of the “Darb” website, the party’s spokesperson, a few weeks ago, and considered it a positive step in the way of allowing the public space for opinion and counter-opinion, adding, “But returning to blocking again as a means to prevent voices from reaching the masses.” “It is an unacceptable administrative pattern that cannot lead to success for the Authority.”
According to the report of the Arab Observatory for Media Freedom (independent) on media freedom in Egypt during the year 2022, the number of imprisoned, whether precautionary or by court rulings, by the end of the year reached 47 male and female media professionals, while the number of blocked websites exceeded 600.