Media manipulation and repression in Egypt

By staff writers
3 Feb 2011

As the standoff between opponents and regime-backed supporters of President Mubrarak continues in Cairo, Index on Censorship condemned media intimidation tactics being used against peaceful protesters, journalists and human rights activists in Egypt.

Over the past 48 hours, there have been reports of both Egyptians and foreigners being injured, detained and intimidated in the beginning of a crackdown.

Incidents highlighted by Index include: the arrest of three al Jazeera journalists; the disappearance of Swedish reporter Bert Sundström; the harassment of reporters from Daily News Egypt; the beating of Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey; the arrest of Washington Post journalists Leila Fadel and Linda Davidson; the attacks on hotels in Cairo housing foreign journalists; and the detention of foreign and Egyptian human rights workers.

The civil rights group said in a media statement: "We call on the government and the authorities to release all journalists, human rights workers and protesters who are being unlawfully held and to abide by Egypt’s legal obligations in respecting freedom of expression and the right to protest. We remind President Mubarak that Egypt is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We ask the EU, the, United States and the UN to put pressure on the government to restrain forces acting in their name."

Meanwhile, cell/mobile phone firm Vodafone has accused the Egyptian authorities of using its network to send unattributed text messages supporting the government.

The company was first told by the government to turn off its network when protests began, then ordered to switch the it back on in order to send out approved messages under Egypt's emergency laws.

The messages were sent around on 2 February 2011, calling on Egyptians to combat demonstrators.

It read in full: "The Armed Forces asks Egypt’s honest and loyal men to confront the traitors and criminals and protect our people and honour and our precious Egypt."

In a statement, Vodaphone said: "Under the emergency powers provisions of the Telecoms Act, the Egyptian authorities can instruct the mobile networks of Mobinil, Etisalat and Vodafone to send messages to the people of Egypt. They have used this since the start of the protests. These messages are not scripted by any of the mobile network operators and we do not have the ability to respond to the authorities on their content."

"Vodafone Group has protested to the authorities that the current situation regarding these messages is unacceptable. We have made clear that all messages should be transparent and clearly attributable to the originator."

But Salil Tripathi from the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) says that there is more the company could and should have done to resist the pressure (http://www.institutehrb.org/blogs/staff/internet_providers_in_egypt.html).

The OECD has said that the Mubarak regime clampdown on internet services may have cost the Egyptian economy as much as £11 million a day.

The impact of the communications block could be even greater, as it would be "much more difficult in the future to attract foreign companies and assure them that the networks will remain reliable", declared the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) from its Paris headquarters.

[Ekk/3]

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