Egypt ranks as world’s 2nd worst jailer of journalists

Egypt has been ranked as the world’s second worst jailer of journalists, coming in after China, in a 2015 Reporters Without Borders report, which counted 22 journalists being held in detention in Egypt. 

According to Reporters Without Borders, a total of 54 journalists are being held hostage, 154 journalists are being detained and eight journalists have disappeared in 2015. The organization also reported that 161 citizen-journalists and 14 media workers are currently being detained in connection with their work. 

While the world's top jailer China has detained a total of 23 journalists, Iran came in third with 18 journalists subjected to detention and disappearance, according to the report.

The number of journalists imprisoned around the world, however, declined between 2014 and 2015, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. 

NGOs and governments around the world have criticized Egypt's lack of press freedom in recent years, pointing to violations against journalists under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after he assumed the presidency. 

"Perhaps nowhere has the climate for the press deteriorated more rapidly than in Egypt, now the second worst jailer of journalists worldwide," said a December 15 press release by the Committee to Protect Journalists. "President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi continues to use the pretext of national security to clamp down on dissent."

Egypt’s Journalists' Syndicate recently escalated protests demanding the release of detained journalists, also decrying poor conditions in Egyptian prisons which has led to deteriorating health conditions of detainees. 

"A new constitution adopted in January contained a number of press freedom guarantees, but these were undermined by important exceptions as well as existing legal restrictions that remained in effect," reported the pro-democracy NGO Freedom House on its website. "In practice, the authorities sought to purge the media of any critical voices, especially those deemed sympathetic to Morsi’s banned Muslim Brotherhood, in part by prosecuting journalists in the politicized courts."

Freedom House categorizes Egypt as "not free" in its press freedom index and gives the country a grade of 73 out of 100 (0=best, 100=worst).

Several high profile cases of detention and imprisonment in the international and national media have shed light on press freedom violations in Egypt.

Photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid Shawkan, who has been held in detention for over 850 days, had his trial postponed to February 6 on Saturday. Shawkan has been the center of a media campaign that spawned the hashtag #FreeShawkan, which demands his release on the premise that he has been falsely detained.

The photojournalist was arrested while photographing demonstrations at Rabaa al-Adaweya after the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Shawkan is being accused of possessing weapons, attempted murder, illegal assembly and terrorizing citizens.

In 2013, three Al-Jazeera journalists were arrested for allegedly reporting false news and for being involved with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. Despite widespread demands for their release, the journalists — Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohammed — were put on trial and found guilty and sentenced to between 7-10 years in prison.

Greste was released and deported back to his native Australia in February 2015, while Fahmy and Mohammed were pardoned in September 2015 on Eid al-Adha by Sisi in a mass pardon that saw 100 detainees released.

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