A day before his scheduled attendance at the inauguration of the New Suez Canal, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) issued a statement calling on French President François Hollande to raise the issue of increasing violations against journalists in Egypt with his counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The Paris-based international media watchdog highlighted that the Egyptian State ranked 158 out of 180 countries in terms of their press freedom index for 2015, adding, “Egypt is now the world’s fourth biggest prison for journalists, after China, Eritrea and Iran.”
The statement read: “We hope you will take advantage of your visit to raise the crucial issue of media freedoms, including the situation of many imprisoned journalists, with the Egyptian president.”
RSF claims that at least 15 journalists and media workers are presently being held behind bars in Egypt, while the New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists says the figure is at least 18.
The Paris-based organization dismissed claims regarding press freedoms in Egypt made by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to his US counterpart John Kerry during his visit to the country on August 2. Shoukry argued that Egypt has not jailed any journalists for merely doing their job, and that all of them were involved in supporting terrorist activities.
“The trumped-up charge of ‘belonging to or supporting a terrorist organization’ is often used to gag dissent in Egypt,” RSF maintained. “As soon as Field Marshall Sisi took power, the government used its offensive against terrorism and the Muslim Brotherhood as grounds for embarking on a ruthless war against journalists who do not tow the official line.”
The media rights group called on Egypt to drop all “trumped-up” charges in the retrial of three media workers from Al Jazeera International, and to release photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid (aka “Shawkan”) who has been jailed for over 700 days without charge, amongst others. RSF pointed out that “Shawkan,” who has hepatitis, is suffering from a lack of adequate medical care while in detention.
The statement concluded with a note to Hollande: “Suppressing freedom of information and silencing critical journalists do not help Egypt’s transition to democracy. France, the country of human rights, cannot neglect the cause of press freedom, a fundamental freedom in any country that respects the rule of law.”
On Tuesday, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms issued a statement citing an unprecedented number of violations committed against journalists in Egypt during Sisi’s first year in office as president (from June 8, 2014 until May 31, 2015). A total of 685 violations of press freedoms nationwide were cited in the report.