Channel NewsAsia

Egypt’s press freedom in decline as many journalists risk lives

With the recent arrest and incarceration of three Al-Jazeera English journalists, Egypt is increasingly considered one of the world's worst places to be a journalist.

CAIRO: A free press is something that most of the Middle East can only dream of, with many journalists risking their lives in pursuit of a story. With the recent arrest and incarceration of three Al-Jazeera English journalists, Egypt is increasingly considered one of the world's worst places to be a journalist.

The three English journalists were sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment on charges of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and reporting false news. The trial and subsequent imprisonment sent shockwaves of fear rippling across Egypt's journalists.

Karim Gamel El-Din, 20, a reporter in Cairo who works with several local news outlets, said the current working environment is a challenging one. Unless they work for state media, many journalists are practicing self-censorship to avoid arrest and detainment.

Karim said: "I've been working as a journalist for the past seven years and nowadays the journalists in Egypt are encountering deteriorating working conditions. I've been subjected to arbitrary arrests by the security apparatus and also hostility on the part of the people on the street who are skeptical about the objectivity of foreign media covering the events as they unfold in Egypt."

Shahira Amin knows only too well the risks Egyptian journalists face on a daily basis. The veteran correspondent was deputy chairman of Nile TV, a state-owned English-language channel, until the 2011 revolution when she resigned in protest against the regime's censorship of the press. Three years on, she said the situation has not changed since the days of ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Shahira said: "Since Jun 30, anybody who strays away, any journalist who strays from the official narrative is immediately labelled a traitor, a spy, or pro-Muslim Brotherhood and that is why many journalists are practicing self-censorship, adopting the state narrative."

Egypt has seen two presidents come and go in the last few years and the removal of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi has only intensified the state-mandated scrutiny of the press. Since the Muslim Brotherhood was labelled a terrorist organisation by the new government, any journalist seen to support them or their narration of events has found themselves on the wrong side of the law.

Amir Salem, a media lawyer, said: "We are now currently in the process of rebuilding a state that is based on freedom, social justice, and a strong economy, and all that requires press freedom".

The deteriorating state of press freedom has been widely criticised by the international community. Egypt's President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has expressed his personal regret that the Al-Jazeera trial took place, but for now the journalists remain in jail.

Freedom of the press is a fundamental right in most of the western world, but the Middle East is yet to have that luxury. Egypt's citizens are calling for democracy but its journalists are not free to put their protests into print.  

Tweet photos, videos and updates on this story to  @channelnewsasia