The National Committee for the Defense of Freedom of Expression (NCDFE) in Egypt
Cairo, Egypt 20 March, 2013
We are writing on behalf of the National Committee for the Defense of Freedom of Expression (NCDFE) in Egypt, an organization made up of some of the country’s most prominent novelists, writers, journalists and others working in the fields of media and art. The main reason we decided to form this group a year ago was our deep concern and alarm over the state of freedom of opinion and expression in Egypt, even though we hoped that after a great revolution like the one we had on 25 January, 2011, we would witness an unprecedented expansion in those fields. After all, one of the key demands of that popular uprising that toppled the former regime after 30 years in office was “freedom,” together with “bread and social justice.”
Nevertheless, after the country’s ruling group, the Muslim Brotherhood, took control, and the election of one of its members, Mohamed Morsi, as president on 30 June, 2012, Egypt has experienced a sharp and speedy deterioration in the state of freedom of expression. The president, and top leaders of the Brotherhood including its General Guide, Mohamed Badie, have repeatedly attacked the media, and demanded to limit freedoms. The media is being held responsible for the decaying state of security and economy, and increasing levels of violence, while disregarding the failures of the current president and government. We kindly seek your support and solidarity in facing those attacks, mainly because we believe freedom of expression is one of those universal values that all human beings should enjoy.
On Saturday 16 March, 2013, journalists gathered in front of the main headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo to cover a protest that was scheduled to take place in front of the building. However, Muslim Brotherhood guards, who cannot be described except as members of an organized militia, brutally attacked journalists and protesters. One photographer was chased in the streets, and was badly beaten by members of the Muslim Brotherhood militia, breaking his leg. Others needed stitches, their equipment was broken, and they were verbally and physically abused.
The NCDFE strongly condemns such acts, and rejects the claims made by Muslim Brotherhood spokesmen to justify the behavior of its members in attacking journalists, alleging they took part in the protest, or that they provoked the guards standing in front of building.
We believe this last attack against journalists is part of a general pattern aimed at threatening and limiting freedom of the media, and a violation of the rights of citizens to receive credible information and objective coverage without restrictions from any political group. The physical attack against journalists by Muslim Brotherhood members also followed repeated statements by the President and leaders of the group attacking the media, accusing particular newspapers and television stations of providing false facts and threatening to take measures against them. In reality, they only want to control the media, and use it as a mouthpiece for the Muslim Brotherhood, exactly like the ousted regime did.
Under the Muslim Brotherhood rule, their militias directly attacked journalists, and of our colleagues, Al-Husseini Abu Deif, was killed while covering clashes between supporters of President Morsi, and his opponents in front of the Presidential Palace in Heliopolis on 5 December, 2012. The NCDFE believes that the slow reaction by legal authorities in prosecuting suspected killers of Abu Deif, and others involved in attacks against journalists, has encouraged such aggressive action against the media.
We are extremely alarmed and dismayed that, until today, no suspects were presented to trial in the cases of Abu-Deif, the siege of the Media City, at 6th of October town, near Cairo in December, 2012 by members of an extremist Islamist group, and three arson attacks against the headquarters of Al-Wafd and Al-Watan newspapers. We also call upon legal authorities to consider seriously the official complaints filed by the six journalists who were brutally beaten and attacked on Saturday 16 March in front of the Brotherhood’s headquarters, and to put on trial those involved. The NCDEF expresses solidarity with a similar complaint presented to the Prosecutor-General by the Egyptian Press Syndicate, demanding the questioning of the Brotherhood’s General Guide, Mr. Mohamed Badie, and his deputy, Mr. Khairat Al-Shater, to find out whether they issued orders to members of their militias to attack journalists.
In its last meeting on Sunday 17 March, 2013, the NCDEF board headed by prominent novelist, Mr. Bahaa Tahar, and former Press Syndicate Chairman, Galal Aref, decided the following:
1- To call for a peaceful protest in front of the headquarters of the Egyptian Press Syndicate on 20 March, 2013 in which all those concerned with freedom of expression, including prominent intellectuals, artists and those working in the media were invited to take part.
2- We call upon political parties, non-governmental organizations, associations defending freedom of thought and expression, in Egypt and worldwide, to take a clear stand in defense of freedom of expression in Egypt, the right to peaceful protest, and the right of journalists and those working in the media to perform their work in a peaceful environment.
3- We express solidarity with the Press Syndicate in the complaint filed to the Prosecutor-General against the General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood and his deputy, and any further steps the Syndicate will decide upon in the next stage.
4- We will address local and international human rights groups, and others concerned with freedom of the press, and freedom of opinion and expression, including the UN Committee on Human Rights, the International Committee to Protect Journalists, Journalists without Borders, Article 19 and others to demand their solidarity with Egyptian journalists against attacks they have been subjected to.
5- We hold the President, the Interior Minister, and the Prosecutor-General responsible for the dangerous consequences of turning a blind eye against violent practices of illegal militias that belong to political parties and groups.
6- We strongly condemn the statements made by Information Minister, Mr. Salah Abdel-Maqsoud, in Qatar, and those made by the president’s advisor on foreign affairs, Mr. Essam Hadad, in Germany, attacking the Egyptian media, and blaming them for the failures of the current Muslim Brotherhood president and government.
7- We call for the formation of an Independent Media Council that will seek to fulfill the goals of the 25 January Revolution, one of which was to end state control over the media, assure the independence of the press and that it wouldn’t be used to serve the political agenda of the ruling regime, and the right of the Egyptian people to a free media.