In its latest attempt to crack down on dissent and curb freedom of expression, the Egyptian government has reportedly passed a law allowing the authorities to monitor and penalize social media users and journalists for publishing news deemed “fake” by the state.
Under the new law, social media accounts and blogs with more than 5,000 followers will be considered media entities, thus eligible for regulation under Egypt's Supreme Council for the Administration of the Media, led by an official appointed by despotic President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
To put it simply, in a country where a number of prominent journalists and activists have been recently arrested for allegedly spreading false rhetoric online, the government can now legally prosecute civilians for even posting their personal opinions on Facebook and Twitter.
It’s troubling, to say the least.
According to the Human Rights Watch, Egypt is unjustly punishing critics under the guise of counterterrorism laws.
“While Egypt faces security threats, the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has exploited these threats cynically as a cover to prosecute peaceful critics and to revive the infamous Mubarak-era state security courts,” said Nadim Houry, the terrorism and counterterrorism director at the non-profit. “Egypt is combining a bad law with unjust courts and the outcome has been predictably disastrous, as al-Sisi’s Western allies look the other way.”
Now, in order to establish a website, social media users would reportedly have to obtain a license from the Supreme Council. Moreover, in case of a violation, the government can also block websites and impose fine on editors among other “appropriate actions.”
“That power of interpretation has been a constant powerful legal and executive tool that was used to justify excessive aggressive and exceptional measures to go after journalists,” Sherif Mansour, the Middle East and North Africa program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, told Reuters.
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