Egypt tightens restrictions on media, social networks

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s top media regulator on Tuesday put into effect tighter restrictions that allow the state to block websites and even social media accounts with over 5,000 followers if they are deemed a threat to national security.

The move is the latest step by the government of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to suppress dissent. In recent years, Egypt has launched an unprecedented crackdown on reporters and the media, imprisoning dozens and occasionally expelling some foreign journalists.

The new regulations, published in the official gazette late on Monday, allow the Supreme Media Regulatory Council to block websites and accounts for “fake news,” and impose stiff penalties of up to EGP250,000 (USD14,400), all without having to obtain a court order.

Prominent Egyptian journalists have called the measures unconstitutional, saying they grant far-reaching powers to authorities to censor the media, in violation of basic press freedoms.

Chief regulator Makram Mohammed Ahmed refused to comment.

A girl stands in front of a banner with Arabic that reads, “remove our shackles,” during a protest to mark World Press Freedom Day in front of the Press Syndicate in Cairo. – AP

Mohamed Abdel-Hafiz, a board member of the journalists’ union, said the government is threatening journalists with “vaguely defined national security violations, as well as vaguely defined political, social or religious norms.”

The nine-page document gave a broad list of prohibited topics, including “anything inciting violating the law, public morals, racism, intolerance, violence, discrimination between citizens or hatred.” Media outlets that continue to publish “offending material” will be fined up to EGP5 million (around USD298,000).

The new regulations laid out the same penalty for outlets that publish content without obtaining distribution rights, plus additional compensation.

Critics of the new measures said the rules were stricter than those approved by lawmakers last July, which they said gave the government almost total control over the media.