Egypt: Rights groups condemn latest blocking of news websites

Read in Arabic / للقراءة بالعربية

The undersigned civil society organizations condemn the blocking by the Egyptian authorities of two more news websites, namely Soulta 4 and Masr 360.

22 June 2023

The undersigned civil society organizations condemn the blocking by the Egyptian authorities of two more news websites, namely Soulta 4 and Masr 360.

The move coincides with the discussion of the right to access information during the ongoing national dialogue sessions. This raises great concerns about the seriousness of the Egyptian authorities regarding making information available on the one hand and the seriousness of the national dialogue on the other.

The undersigned organizations call on the Egyptian authorities to lift the blocking of the two websites, stop the repeated targeting of the press, and to lift the censorship imposed on the media.

The editor-in-chief and founder of the Soulta 4 website, Rimon Wageeh, said he was surprised on 10 June that he was unable to access the website while it was being updated. He made sure that the website was blocked inside Egypt because users abroad were able to access it.

Wageeh noted that the Journalists’ Syndicate had informed him that the website was blocked due to his failure to apply for a license in accordance with Law No. 180 of 2018. He stressed that he has been seeking a license for some time and has already established a company affiliated with the General Authority for Investment, but the Supreme Council for Media Regulation (SCMR) requested capital equivalent to 100,000 pounds, so he had to modify the licensing procedures.

Meanwhile, the founder of the Masr 360 website, Hussein Bahgat, said his website was blocked last Saturday, stressing that he did not receive any warnings or signals indicating the possibility of blocking the website. As soon as he confirmed the blocking, Bahgat contacted the Journalists’ Syndicate and it told him that the website was blocked due to the lack of license, despite the fact that he submitted a request to the SCMR for a license more than six months ago, but has not received any response so far, something which negates the justifications made by the Journalists’ Syndicate.

The two websites were likely blocked due to the content they published. The Soulta 4 website covers political and party news, especially news of the opposition Civil Democratic Movement, while the Masr 360 website mainly covers news of human rights violations and has recently criticized the acquisition by Emirati companies of Egyptian assets.

The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) has conducted some technical tests, which showed the inability to access the two websites.

The undersigned organizations affirm that the targeting and blocking of news websites have come in line with the hostile practices of the Egyptian authorities towards freedom of the press, the right to knowledge, and freedom of information over the past decade. These practices contradict the repeated promises by the Egyptian authorities to start a new phase of media freedom.

The Egyptian authorities launched a campaign to block independent news, political, and human rights websites in May 2017. The number of websites and links that have been blocked so far has reached 562, including at least 132 news websites.

The blocking decisions violate Article 71 of the constitution, which stipulates that “it is prohibited to censor, confiscate, suspend or shut down Egyptian newspapers and media outlets in any way … and no custodial sanction shall be imposed for crimes committed by way of publication or the public nature thereof”.

The undersigned organizations affirm that the continued blocking of websites exacerbates the violation of the right to media freedom and the citizens’ right to know, access information, and use the internet, which is protected by Articles 57, 65, 68, and 71 of the Egyptian constitution.

The undersigned organizations reiterate their call for the Egyptian authorities to immediately stop internet censorship, end blocking news websites, and guarantee freedom of the press.Signatory Organizations: