As Elections Near, Egypt Finds a New Target: Foreign News Media - The New York Times
CAIRO — Egypt’s chief prosecutor delivered a withering broadside against the news media on Wednesday, blaming the “forces of evil” for negative coverage and instructing his staff to take legal action against outlets deemed to be undermining Egypt’s security.
The remarks by the prosecutor, Nabil Sadek, were the latest escalation of a draconian crackdown on civil liberties before a presidential election in March that has become fraught with tension even though President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi faces no real opposition.
In comments that appeared aimed at the foreign news media, Mr. Sadek accused outlets of spreading false news “to disturb the public order and terrorize society.” A day earlier, Egypt had called for a boycott of the BBC over a documentary that aired last week detailing torture and illegal abductions by Egyptian security forces.
Local news coverage has been dominated in recent days by a wave of government-driven outrage over the documentary. Although the documentary contained abuse accusations already widely documented by human rights groups, it was denounced as propaganda spread by the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
The State Information Service, which oversees the foreign media, said the BBC film was inaccurate because a young woman featured in the documentary later told a local television station that she had not been harmed.
Her mother said on Tuesday that the woman had been coerced into giving a false statement to the local station. A day later, the mother was reported to have been arrested.
The BBC said in a statement: “We stand by the integrity of our reporting teams.”
While Mr. Sisi has long treated Egyptian news outlets harshly, jailing dozens of reporters and blocking about 500 websites, he has generally spared foreign reporters the worst measures. That appears to have changed with the presidential election campaign.
A long list of rules announced by the national election commission in February seeks to dictate the questions journalists can ask voters, prohibits them from using photographs or headlines “not related to the topic” and forbids them from making “any observations about the voting process.”
“These rules made me laugh, and scared the hell out of me at the same time,” said Gamal Eid, a leading lawyer and human rights activist. “The rules are purposefully vague so they can decide to let their friends go, and punish their critics. It seems tailor-made for the foreign media.”