Al-Watan report on tax evasion by state institutions censored

A picture of the banned first page of today’s edition of the privately owned Al-Watan daily newspaper circulated widely on social media, with reports that the paper was sent back from the Al-Ahram printing houses following security orders.

The controversial headline that was held back from print is of an investigative piece on the tax evasion of state institutions. The headline, as posted on social media, reads: “13 sovereign bodies don’t pay their employees’ taxes: the Presidency, the General Intelligence Services, the Interior Ministry and the Defense Ministry are the primary tax evaders and losses have reached LE7.9 billion.”

The headline is followed by, “Al-Watan unveils the catastrophe with documents: Egypt is looking for a penny and the government is squandering millions.”

In the edition that made it to print, this headline is replaced by one on the upcoming Economic Development Conference, which will be held in Sharm el-Sheikh next Friday.

In an interview with Al-Bedaiah website, the CEO of Al-Ahram said that the institution is not responsible for the headline change and that the newspaper is the one who called back the story, in order to change it after negotiations with an official institution.

Similar incidents of censorship have taken place in the past, especially when the Armed Forces or the General Intelligence Services have been involved.

In October of last year, an edition of the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm was recalled because of an interview with former Intelligence Officer Refaat Gebreel. Al-Masry Al-Youm website editor Ahmed Ragab told Mada Masr at the time that the paper recieved a phone call from the General Intelligence Services requesting it to halt printing and remove the interview.

Article 70 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of the press, while Article 71 prohibits censorship, stating, “Censorship of Egyptian press and media is prohibited by any means, in addition to confiscation, suspension or closure, with the exception of specific censorship that may be imposed at times of war or public mobilization.”

However, certain laws allow for intervention in the media, especially when it comes to sovereign institutions. A law issued under the presidency of Anwar Sadat considers information regarding the General Intelligence Services a national security secret, and its publishing is prohibited except with written approval from the head of the General Intelligence Services. Breaking this law is punishable by six months to five years in prison, in addition to a fine ranging from LE100,000 to LE500,000.

In November, the State Council approved a Defense Ministry-authored bill on Thursday that would ban media outlets from publishing news pertaining to the Armed Forces without prior written consent from the head of the Armed Forces or a relevant court.

The law remains pending approval by the Cabinet.

The editors of Al-Watan could not be reached for comment. 

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