The 1971 constitution and the provisional constitution provide for freedom of speech and press. However, the government partially restricted these rights through harassment, censorship, and arrests and detentions, sometimes under the Emergency Law and in other instances under provisions of the penal code that prohibit incitement or discrimination.
Freedom of Speech: Citizens generally expressed their views openly on a wide range of political and social topics, including the revolution and the resulting political transition. After the revolution citizens primarily faced harassment if they directly criticized the SCAF or military, and many reported self-censorship on this issue. Before and after the revolution, citizens vigorously criticized senior government officials and policies in the independent press, on satellite television, and on social media. On May 30, a military prosecutor summoned blogger and activist Hossam Hamalawy and television show host Reem Maged for questioning regarding critical statements that Hamalawy made on Maged’s show on the subject of military police torturing detained activists. The prosecutor did not file formal charges against Hamalawy or Maged. On May 10, Cairo University referred 13 students for prosecution on charges of defamation after they organized sit-ins demanding the removal of the university president. A court suspended and subsequently dismissed these charges late in the year.
Freedom of Press: The independent print and broadcast media were active and expressed a wide range of views on political and social issues, with the exception of direct criticism of the SCAF or the military. The penal code and the press and publications law govern press issues. After the revolution the government licensed many new independent television stations and newspapers. Most of the same state-owned media outlets continued to operate.
The government controlled the licensing, printing, and distribution of newspapers, including independent papers and those of opposition political parties. The constitution restricts ownership of newspapers to public or private legal entities, corporate bodies, and political parties.
The government took some formal steps to censor satellite television stations. On September 7, the Ministry of Information directed the General Investment Authority (GIA), which issues satellite television broadcast licenses, to stop issuing licenses and announced that it would close unlicensed satellite television channels and take legal action against those that threatened national security. On October 4, the GIA advised domestic satellite television stations in writing that they must not criticize the SCAF.
On September 11, following coverage of the mob attack on the Israeli embassy, authorities forced Al Jazeera Live--which had broadcast in the country since February--off the air and detained one of the station’s staff members for refusing to hand over documents. The authorities said that the company providing Al Jazeera Live’s satellite uplink capability was not licensed. The head of the channel claimed the channel had requested authorization on March 20 and that the Ministry of Information assured that it could continue to operate until the ministry issued the license. On September 29, plainclothes police again raided Al Jazeera Live, confiscating a camera, a laptop computer, and other equipment. The station continued to broadcast at year’s end.
Violence and Harassment: The Committee to Protect Journalists reported two journalists killed while covering demonstrations during the year. During demonstrations throughout the year, security forces and civilian thugs physically attacked, harassed, detained, and intimidated international and local journalists. During major demonstrations celebrating the resignation of former president Mubarak on February 11, a group of men beat and sexually assaulted a female CBS News correspondent. On November 23, security forces allegedly detained an Egyptian-American journalist for 12 hours, blindfolded her, and sexually assaulted her. On December 17, according to Human Rights Watch, military forces beat Hassan Shahin, an editor with the independent Al Badil newspaper, after he came to the aid of a woman stripped, beaten, and stomped on by uniformed men. Shahin reported that the uniformed men then attacked him with clubs, fists, and boots, causing bruises and abrasions to the body and face. There were no investigations into these incidents.
Journalists also reported harassment outside of demonstrations. For example, on December 11, the media reported that television host Amr al-Leithi filed a complaint with the public prosecutor after he received death threats following reports on his show covering radicalism in the country.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Emergency Law authorizes censorship for reasons of public safety and national security. In September the SCAF expanded the Emergency Law to include “intentionally spreading false information.” The Ministry of Information monitored and censored the media during the year. At various times during the year the SCAF or the military banned reporting on specific topics. For example, on March 17, the military released a statement calling on all media not to publish “opinions, suggestions, or analysis” during the constitutional referendum. Domestic media also practiced self-censorship on issues such as the military and the intelligence service due to fear of government reprisal.
On September 24, the Ministry of Information halted the printing of independent daily newspaper Sawt Al Umma, reportedly due to either an article on alleged corruption within the General Intelligence Service or an article that violated a gag order imposed by the judge in the trial of former president Mubarak.
On September 27, the editor in chief of state-owned daily newspaper Rose El Yousef reported that “a sovereign body” (a reference to the General Intelligence Service) objected to an article in that day’s issue. The entire edition was withdrawn from distribution.
Libel Laws/National Security: Under the law an editor in chief can be considered criminally responsible for libel contained in any portion of a newspaper. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), as of late November military prosecutors had summoned at least nine activists and journalists on charges of criminal defamation after they criticized, or discussed alleged abuses by, the military or SCAF. For example, on August 13, activist Asmaa Mahfouz received a summons to appear before the military prosecutor for questioning. The military prosecutor questioned her for more than three hours about her comments on Twitter and media interviews during protests on July 23 in which she criticized the military for failing to intervene to protect protesters. On August 16, the state news agency reported that the prosecutor decided to refer Mahfouz’s case to court on charges of insulting the military. The SCAF pardoned Mahfouz on August 18.
Nongovernmental Impact: Civilian thugs also attacked journalists and inhibited freedom of expression during the year. For example, on December 17, unidentified men entered the offices of independent outlets CBC and CBC+2, which were broadcasting images of demonstrations and violence by security forces against demonstrators. According to witness accounts obtained by HRW, the men destroyed equipment and threatened the staff.