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Freedom of Expression
Home > Country focus > Egypt > Freedom of expression in Egypt in 2012

Freedom of expression in Egypt in 2012

Saturday 12 January 2013, by Un Ponte Per...

Freedom of expression in Egypt throughout 2012 remained a volatile issue despite its first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, coming into office. According to the Index on Censorship, Morsi’s presidency has seen a continuation to the injustices that occurred in Mubarak’s regime with no attempt to reform journalistic standards. The Human Rights Watch reports that in Egypt one television station was closed, three editions of newspapers were censored, at least nine journalists were prosecuted on criminal defamation charges and at least 15 individuals were interrogated or indicted on criminal charges for “insulting religion” in 2012 alone.

Several examples of persecution by Egyptian authorities against freedom of expression in 2012 can be seen below. These include persecutions against Egyptian television stations, newspapers and bloggers for both anti-Egyptian government and anti-religious sentiments that displeased them.

  • During a protest on May 4th more than 30 assaults and detentions of journalists occurred while covering clashes between protesters, thugs and uniformed military personnel .
  • This was closely followed by a raid carried out by the Egyptian police on TV station Al-Alam on May 12th due to not having the proper operating licenses. This is an example of Egyptian authorities withholding necessary licenses in order to later take punitive action against such stations if information being distributed is contrary to what they desire.
  • Another case of detention occurred against Tawfiq Okacha, the owner of the TV station El-Faraeen (The Pharaons) who was detained after insulting President Mohamed Morsi and sentenced to a four-month jail term on October 22nd, 2012.
  • On the 13th of September, Albert Saber Ayyay was arrested for administering an atheist group on Facebook and sharing the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims. Saber was found guilty and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on 12 December 2012.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in Egypt has unjustly prosecuted journalists throughout 2012. Prosecutors have sited vague and arbitrary laws when citizens or media insult the military under SCAF rule. Because of this, objective journalism is hard to produce. Direct intimidation of and violence against journalists, bloggers and other media outlets in Egypt has been a prominent issue throughout 2012.

Various sources on freedom of expression in Egypt throughout 2012:

Human Rights Watch

Egypt’s penal code includes numerous provisions that violate international law by providing criminal penalties of imprisonment for “insulting” public officials and institutions, including the president (article 179), public officials (article 185), “foreign kings or heads of state” (article 180), and foreign diplomats (article 182).

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the expert body that provides authoritative interpretations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a party, states in General Comment No. 34, on Article 19 on Freedom of Expression, that “States parties should not prohibit criticism of institutions, such as the army or the administration.”

By this standard, article 184 of the Egyptian penal code, which criminalizes “insulting the People’s Assembly, the Shura Council or any State Authority, or the Army or the Courts,” is incompatible with international law and should be amended accordingly, Human Rights Watch said.

General Comment No. 34 continues: “The mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties, albeit public figures may also benefit from the provisions of the Covenant. Moreover, all public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority such as heads of state and government, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition.”

Laws that criminalize “contempt” of religion or religious groupings are incompatible with norms of freedom of expression, the Human Rights Committee said. General Comment No. 34 notes that it is impermissible for “prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws…to be used to prevent or punish criticism of religious leaders or commentary on religious doctrine and tenets of faith.”


Overall, there was an increase in prosecutions under restrictive laws from the Mubarak era that penalize defamation and “spreading false information,” and security services continued to arrest and abuse journalists during protests. Security services assaulted, arrested, and tortured journalists and protesters during protests outside the Ministry of Interior in February and outside the Ministry of Defense in May.

Following President Morsy’s election, the authorities ordered the closure of one TV station and censored at least three editions of newspapers. The public prosecutor filed criminal defamation charges against at least nine journalists in connection with their writing or broadcasting. In November, the minister of justice appointed an investigative judge to interrogate a number of journalists and activists on charges of “insulting the judiciary.” In 2012, prosecutors interrogated or indicted at least 15 individuals on criminal charges of “insulting religion.” In September, a court in Assiout sentenced Bishoy Kamel to six years’ imprisonment for “insulting Islam.”

In the same month, the blasphemy trial opened of Alber Saber, whose atheist beliefs led to his indictment on charges of insulting Islam and Christianity. Media freedom activists criticized the upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, for failing to include independent journalists in their appointments of the new editors of state newspapers. In August, President Morsy amended the press law to cancel pretrial detention for journalists after a judge ordered the detention of Islam Afifi, editor of Dustoor newpaper, after he was charged with defamation.

Index on Censorship

“As 2012 came to a close, the issue of public expression was particularly relevant, as the country’s main political factions seem destined to spend most of 2013 publicly screaming at each other.

Egypt’s public debate has become shrill and bitter as the country has split into deeply polarised camps: Islamists versus everybody else. President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood allies have succeeded in forcing through a rushed and controversial constitution — a process that has burned almost all bridges with the largely secularist opposition.

This polarisation is reflected in the country’s media. As Egypt has broken into warring camps, much of the media has followed suit and taken sides — leaving very little in the way of objective journalism. At times different media outlets seem to be reporting from alternate universes. One classic example of this came on 23 December, the day after a nationwide referendum on the new constitution.”

“The government has struggled to maintain a consistent policy on this newly liberated media. Despite proclamations of a new post-Mubarak era of freedom, prosecution of journalists has continued on-and-off since the revolution — both under Morsi and under the military government that immediately followed Mubarak.”

Reporters Without Borders
Details on 4 May Cairo protest:

Details on 12 May raid on Al-Alam:

Details on 22 October detention of Tawfiq Okacha, owner of El-Faraeen:

Details on 13 September arrest of Albert Saber Ayyay:

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