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Chronicles from Egypt 3/4 – Searching for Justice

“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person” the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), Art. 3 recites.

This appears not to be the case in today’s Egypt, where reinforced security measures have increasingly been constricting Egyptian citizens’ life, liberty and security in the last years.

The government’s reaction to the wave of protests on September 20th, 2019 does not but confirm the presence of a policy of total repression under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s rule.

Equally, the measures adopted to prevent any popular mobilization on the occasion of the anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution on January 25th, 2020 is highly indicative of the imposition of a state of total fear in the country.

A closer look into some everyday life stories of Egyptians cannot leave us indifferent.

Rather, it signals a worrying oppression leading to a deterioration, if not complete neglect, of human rights under what Project on the Middle East Democracy (POMED)’s Deputy Director for Policy, Andrew Miller, has called “the most repressive government in modern Egyptian history”.

Among the several stories that could clearly illustrate this scenario, we chose to present in a series of episodes the example of Hossam, who prefers to remain anonymous for security reasons. His vicissitudes since September 2019 stimulate a number of reflections on the current situation in a country that strongly prioritizes its national security but where citizens can hardly feel secure.

Episode 3 – Searching for justice: lawyers and human rights organizations at work

Let us go back to the tense moments following Hossam’s disappearance.

Suddenly, his family and friends found themselves into an unprecedented situation that required careful consideration. What were the best steps to take? Which were the most suitable people to reach out? Which organizations could help following his case? Who could be trusted?

With all these questions in mind and no time to waste, Hossam’s beloved ones quickly mobilized in his desperate search.

In reason of the distressing events of those days, major local human rights organizations were extremely responsive. Their Facebook pages were filled with documents explaining the most recommended procedures. Similar information were circulating through WhatsApp accompanied with phone numbers of trustworthy lawyers. A network of knowledgeable people were mobilizing to offer as much help as possible. Despite the unfavorable context, people falling into the unfortunate possibility of knowing anyone victim of enforced disappearance were not alone.

Few days after going to the local police station, Hossam’s family received the confirmation of what they had suspected from the very beginning. Hossam’s name appeared in the official list of people taken by the National Security near Tahrir Square on Saturday.

From that moment, the regular life of a tranquil family living in the Cairo countryside was turned ups and down. They had no choice but to start reach out lawyers, human rights organizations, local authorities in an attempt to bring Hossam safe back home.

Ahlam Almuetaqala (Dreams of the Detainee) Créateur: Inji Efflatoun Lieu: Egypt

The Egyptian fight against terrorism in court

After Al-Sisi takeover in 2013, fighting terrorism has represented the focal point in the official state discourse, progressively used after 2015 and further reinforced after last September protests. A comparative observation of the most recurrent charges suggests the arbitrary nature of legal justifications for the most recent detentions.

In addition to the accusation of “joining terrorist groups”, the charges of “spreading false news”, “misuse of social media” and “undermining national security” are persistently used. Under these very broad statements, it is evident that anyone could easily fall into the category of people to detain, as it was the case for Hossam.

As reported by Amnesty international in the weeks following the outbreak of protests, “The protesters and those arrested –who all face terrorism-related charges- have an extremely diverse range of age, socio-economic, gender and religious backgrounds, including non-political backgrounds”.

Human rights organizations have been pursuing several paths to review the penal code in order to bring more clarity to the reasons for detention in Egypt.

On December 14th and 15th, the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) called for “the need to update and activate amendments”, especially with regards to pre-trial detention, but in vain. Rather, during the first months of 2020, the government proposed new legislative amendments to further toughen what human rights groups call the “draconian” 2015 anti-terrorism law. In fact, On February 10th, Egyptian parliament approved amendments to the anti-terrorism law, broadening the definition of terrorist activities and terrorist financing as well as imposing harsher sentences for terrorism-related crimes.

Lawyers and human rights organization at work: a strenuous struggle

In a country where the rule of law seems a mere abstraction, lawyers and human rights organizations could naturally be deluded. Nonetheless, many believers in the need for justice do not give up.

Remarkably, the weeks following the wave of arrests saw a well-orchestrated coordination of lawyers, human rights organizations, journalists, academics and activists denouncing that reality.

Numerous statements bringing light to the alarming application of law in Egypt were released. In October, NCHR called the last wave of arrest of people on the street unconstitutional. As a reaction, security forces mobilized all media outlets to criticize the council and his President, Mohamed Fayek, declaring that “he lacks knowledge of his own country’s laws”.

Although recurring to legal instruments to bring justice has proved to be extremely challenging, several lawyers continued their valorous struggle.

They were incessantly monitoring the situation, releasing essential information and taking action. Most importantly, they have put themselves at complete disposal of the community in need, sacrificing vital hours of sleep and any kind of personal life. A look into the Twitter and Facebook accounts of major lawyers reveals weeks of uninterrupted work, with posts published every hour, day and night.

Not only has that urgent scenario put a serious strain on lawyers’ psychological health, but it has also implied dangers for their safety.

Generally, an Egyptian lawyer defending sensitive causes can put his or her own life at risk. Remarkably, Ibrahim Metlawy, a lawyer working on the case of Italian PhD student Giulio Regeni murdered in Egypt during his field research, was arrested, detained and tortured in September 2017.

Last September scenario further proved the current criminalization of human rights. Not only detention and torture, but also harassment and threats are recurrently adopted to discourage this activity. Among others, Human right lawyer and executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) Gamal Eid was assaulted by a dozen of armed men who he suspected were police officers as reported by BBC on December 30th, 2019.

Gamal Eid posted a picture of himself covered in paint after the alleged attack-BBC

In their report “Human rights behind bars in Egypt”, EuroMed Rights monitors current human right defenders at risk showing the innumerous faces of those who have been targeted. In addition to detention, the Egyptian state frequently recurs to police probation, travel ban, asset freeze.

Lawyers and human rights defenders represent a vital component of the Egyptian community in search for justice. With their knowledge, strenuous work and unstoppable commitment, they have been assisting thousands of people in their journey through detention, while putting themselves at risk.

However, people’s confidence in the power of law to bring justice in cases of arbitrary detention has been challenged to the point of exhaustion. Without doubt, what remains in the mind of victims of injustice is the need of change while continuing “wrestling with the darkness” (نصارع الظلام) as framed by Egyptian revolutionary musician and poet Ali Talibab.

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Chronicles from Egypt 2/4 – « Systematic torture and abuses in Egyptian prisons »

“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person” the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), Art. 3 recites.

This appears not to be the case in today’s Egypt, where reinforced security measures have increasingly been constricting Egyptian citizens’ life, liberty and security in the last years.

The government’s reaction to the wave of protests on September 20th, 2019 does not but confirm the presence of a policy of total repression under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s rule.

Equally, the measures adopted to prevent any popular mobilization on the occasion of the anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution on January 25th, 2020 is highly indicative of the imposition of a state of total fear in the country.

A closer look into some everyday life stories of Egyptians cannot leave us indifferent.

Rather, it signals a worrying oppression leading to a deterioration, if not complete neglect, of human rights under what Project on the Middle East Democracy (POMED)’s Deputy Director for Policy, Andrew Miller, has called “the most repressive government in modern Egyptian history”.

Among the several stories that could clearly illustrate this scenario, we chose to present in a series of episodes the example of Hossam, who prefers to remain anonymous for security reasons. His vicissitudes since September 2019 stimulate a number of reflections on the current situation in a country that strongly prioritizes its national security but where citizens can hardly feel secure.

 

Episode 2 – Beyond deprivation of liberty: systematic torture and abuses un Egyptian prisons

The first stage of Hossam’s experience in prison was everything but untroubled. After preliminary control procedures at a police station, Hossam was moved to Tora prison. Tora prison is a familiar name for most Egyptians.

Among prominent figures who suffered from what a multitude of reports describe as cruel and degrading punishments, Mohammed Morsi’s five-year detention in Tora Prison and his successive death in court has become emblematic. Consequently, Tora prison represents in the mind of people a place of ill-treatment, abuse and torture.At the same time of his arrival, a group of detainees started a hunger strike to protest against torture.

As a result, everyone underwent increased ill treatment, including those as Hossam who did not participate in it.“For five entire days, for five entire days”, his brother keeps repeating, “Hossam could not see the light”. Predictably, he was not able to avoid torture. Detainees in Tora prison and he had to bear daily humiliation involving both verbal and physical violence.

Hossam’s experience as a prisoner did not come to an end there. After his first appearance in front of the “Niqab Amn al-Dawla”, the State Security Syndicate, he was charged with accusations of joining “terrorist organizations”. Abu Zaabal prison was therefore waiting for him.

During his 43-day imprisonment in Abu Zaabal Prison, the family could only visit him twice.

Policemen and people walk in front of the main gate of Tora prison in Cairo © HCR

Save Egyptian Detainees

Since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s presidency, it is no secret that the crackdown on activists, bloggers, journalists, and researchers has reached an alarming peak.

It has become a common practice to silence opposition through enforced disappearance, assault and detention of people challenging the official state discourse. In its biannual report on detention in Egypt, the Detention Watch Project found 932 enforced disappearances, 638 arbitrary detentions, 320 equivocal killings from the first half of 2019. Notably, journalists have been among the most targeted categories. The International Press Institute (IPI) reported in December 2019 that 61 journalists were imprisoned and 25 arrested only during the three preceding months.

© CPJ - statistics - journalists attacked in Egypt since 1992

Furthermore, the September protests triggered a further escalation of governmental repression. The campaign launched on Twitter in November 2019 under the hashtag #SaveEgyptianDetainees confirms a deploring increase in arbitrary detention. As in the case of Hossam, several people were taken from the streets, leading to a registered number of 4321 detainees only in the weeks between September 20th and October 21st, 2019 according to The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms – ECFR.

Data on number of detainees from The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms © ECRF

Throughout that period, thousands of common citizens had to go through the experience of detention. Only after an exhausting waiting period with little information and extreme uncertainty, some of them were progressively released. As Cairo-based journalist for the Wall Street Journal, Amira el-Fekki, explains on December, 4th, 2019: “While Egyptian authorities have continued to release hundreds of detainees since September 20 events, critics are kept in jail over vague charges”.

The threat of detention has been taking its extreme form, leading to a widespread awareness of the predominance of “Dhulm”, injustice, in the current Egyptian state.

Systematic torture in Egyptian prisons. If “Dhulm” is a recurrent thought in the minds of thousands of Egyptians, “Ta’azib”, torture, has similarly acquired a prominent status in the Egyptian Arabic vocabulary.

Illutsration prison Tora Egypt – © @yssinmhmd

Detention in Egypt does not limit itself to deprivation of liberty. Since President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s times, prisons were associated with ill treatment, abuses and, above all, torture.Yet, under the presidency of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the State Security’s methods seem becoming exponentially brutal. “This is accurate, but outdated. Prisons today are much worse than this”, an Egyptian activist now living abroad exclaims. He was attending the screening of the movie inspired by true events on torture in Egypt “el Hatk” (The Assault) directed by Mohamed el Bahrawi.

This perceived increase in brutality of the practices adopted to silence opposition is also confirmed by official studies carried out by international organizations. In June 2017, the UN Committee against Torture stated that a study of current situation leads to “the inescapable conclusion that torture is a systematic practice in Egypt”.

The numerous testimonies of former prisoners equally send an alarming message.In the article “Thinking with Alaa” by independent Egyptian online newspaper Mada Masr, prominent human rights activist Alaa Abdel Fattah openly denounces its deploring conditions since the last of his numerous detentions in prison. In addition to the inevitable endurance of torture, during his imprisonment he was denied any basic needs such as access to reading materials, sunlight or clean water.

While the government has recurrently attempted to show a positive image of Egyptian prisons by organizing pre-scheduled visits for journalists and officials such as the open visit to Tora Prison last November, an independent research on the topic suggests a complete different reality.

International reaction On November 14th, 2019, Al Monitor reports that co-founder of April 6th movement and journalist Israa Abdelfattah would start a thirst strike. She was seeking to open an official investigation on complaints about her endurance of torture under custody. In a state where calls for a fair and transparent application of the rule of law are futile, people have been left with no other means but to recur to extreme gestures to make their cause being heard.It is here natural to wonder about the international reaction towards a country that has been manifestly violating fundamental human rights universally protected by international conventions.

In February 2020, six human rights NGOs requested in a joint letter to the European Council “to lead a comprehensive review of the European Union’s relations with Egypt” in reason of the sustained crackdown on human rights in the country.While numerous international organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Borders, Committee to Protect Journalists and much more constantly denounce the alarming reality in current Egypt, states have often turned a blind-eye on the subject.

Even in front of prominent cases that have received extended media coverage and are directly related to other countries, governments have taken little or no action. The most recent case of Egyptian Patrick Zaki George studying in Italy and arrested at his arrival at Cairo Airport on February 7th, sparked a civil society outcry accompanied with some statements by politicians such as president of the European Parliament David Sassoli.However, we cannot observe any concrete steps to effectively re-discuss diplomatic and economic relations with Egypt.

Among others, business between Italy and Egypt is even increasing. Panarab newspaper al-Araby al-Jadid reported few days later that event the possibility of imminent agreement on armament between Cairo and Rome of 9 billiard euros.

Cases where the victims of the Egyptian repressive system are not only Egyptian citizens are recurrent, from the mysterious disappearance, torture and murder of Italian PHD student Giulio Regeni in 2016 to the death in prison of American-Egyptian Mustafa Kassem on January 13.The question is whether the international community will ever actively listen to and not merely pretend to hear the voices of thousands of people suffering from injustice in Egypt. Those voices screaming out loud the inhumanity of prison in Egypt, as expressed in Ramy Essam’s powerful song “Fe segn bel Alwan” (Colourful Prison).“Oh state of forlorn people, shame on your ideasGlory to prisoners as long as you are hypocrites”.

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Chronicles from Egypt 1/4 – “Not only afraid to talk… Total state of fear un today Egypt »

“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person” the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), Art. 3 recites.

This appears not to be the case in today’s Egypt, where reinforced security measures have increasingly been constricting Egyptian citizens’ life, liberty and security in the last years.

The government’s reaction to the wave of protests on September 20th, 2019 does not but confirm the presence of a policy of total repression under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s rule.

Equally, the measures adopted to prevent any popular mobilization on the occasion of the anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution on January 25th, 2020 is highly indicative of the imposition of a state of total fear in the country.

A closer look into some everyday life stories of Egyptians cannot leave us indifferent.

Rather, it signals a worrying oppression leading to a deterioration, if not complete neglect, of human rights under what Project on the Middle East Democracy (POMED)’s Deputy Director for Policy, Andrew Miller, has called “the most repressive government in modern Egyptian history”.

Among the several stories that could clearly illustrate this scenario, we chose to present in a series of episodes the example of Hossam, who prefers to remain anonymous for security reasons. His vicissitudes since September 2019 stimulate a number of reflections on the current situation in a country that strongly prioritizes its national security but where citizens can hardly feel secure.

 

Episode 1 – From a simple walk to detention

On Saturday, September 21, 2019, Hossam was walking in the street, near Tahrir Square. He just traveled all the way from 6th of October in order to deliver delicious home-made food kindly prepared by his 53 year-old mother for a foreign friend living in Cairo. 

He was supposed to be back home soon after that brief meeting. His mother was waiting at home, but the son did not show up. His elder brother now living abroad was trying to reach him, but to not avail. He had two phones, both of them mysteriously unreachable.

This is how the story of most Egyptians who get arrested begins.

Later, the family would know that he was kidnapped near Mohamed Mahmoud Street, one of the centers of the 2011 revolution widely renewed for its collection of graffiti filling the walls of the area at the time.  As the National Security Service brutally took him from the street and conducted him first to a police station and then to prison, Hossam suddenly turned from a free man walking in the street to a potential criminal confined in detention.

In the meanwhile, his family would have no official information on the reasons for his detention.

Talaat Harb Square. Downtown Cairo, December 2019. Photo by Veronica Merlo

Downtown Cairo transforms into a police state

This episode might not be surprising to any person who has recently lived in Cairo.

Visibly, “Wust el-Balad”, the downtown, and its surroundings have become sensitive areas under tight security control.

Plain clothes, police vehicles and soldiers perceptibly dominate the space around main streets, squares and bridges, as if the state would be either at war or ready to fight one. In a tweet from September 27th, 2019, BBC Arabic Correspondent in Egypt and Middle East, Sally Nabil, describes an unprecedented security deployment in the Egyptian capital and concludes: “Tahrir Square looks more like military barracks!”.

As I was living in Cairo at the time, I could myself witness a reality where “Egyptians are treated as criminals simply for peacefully expressing their opinions” in Naja Bounaim’s, Amnesty International North Africa Campaign Director, words.

Not only did people get used to be extremely cautious when speaking, but they equally feel vulnerable while simply walking or even staying in their own homes. In addition to “spot checks” of peoples’ phones, looking for content that might deem political, visits of people’s apartments from the “Mabaheth”, State Security Service Investigations, increased in frequency and degree of intrusion.

On a Sunday morning, I opened the door of my apartment in Mounira neighbourhood and I found myself in front of two people with civilian clothes accompanied by the “Bawab”, the doorman. After asking for the contract of the apartment, they did not hesitate to enter the rooms of my two flatmates and I. After a thorough search through our books, laptops and phones accompanied by precise questions on our identity, they proceeded to the nearby apartment.

Beyond urgent security measures: normalization of intrusion of people’s privacy

Undoubtedly, the September protests sparked by the publication of a series of videos by Egyptian former army contractor Mohamed Ali denouncing the corruption of the government from Spain provided the justification for the regime to take urgent actions. The measures adopted were conceived as part of the higher “battle against terrorism” which has been on the top of Al-Sisi’s agenda since his takeover in 2013.  The words from Al Sisi’s official account on Twitter on September 27th show the adoption of a reinforced discourse on the necessity for the nation to fight terrorism, a battle that, he states, “has not ended yet”.

While we could consider this exponential crackdown as a temporary reaction to the wave of protests on September 20th, 2019, the observation of the reality in Cairo in the following period tells us otherwise.

The aforementioned reinforced measures to preserve the country’s stability have uninterruptedly been in force in the last months, with only slight differences in degree of intensity depending on the week. As Egyptian Human Rights activist Mona Seif explains on a twit on October 13th, 2019 :  “Every week a new activist gets kidnapped from the street, from home, from work”.

Photo by New York Times in Egypt

In January 2020, the very same atmosphere of last September characterized by total control over people’s movements, words and life was re-newly manifest in the capital. On the anniversary of the 25th January revolution -now exclusively referred to as the traditional celebration of  “’Aid al Shurta”, “The Police Day”, in the official government’s discourse- downtown was unsurprisingly shut down. 

Cairo-based journalist for The Wall Street Journal, Amira el-Fekki, reported that day on Twitter: “In what is becoming a normalized assault on privacy, police searching people’s phones around downtown #Cairo, #Tahrir. Some restaurants aren’t delivering to that area today to avoid harassment of their delivery guys”.

In the article “Your guide to surviving downtown during the revolution anniversary crackdown” published by the independent online newspaper Mada Masr on January 21st, the testimonies of people describing their experiences of arbitrary arrests, raids and random searches suggest a repeated scenario of total control to which any Egyptian citizen can be subject.

Downtown between past and present

Without forgetting the extension of similar security measures to numerous cities all around Egypt, the scenario in downtown Cairo from where Hossam was kidnapped last September best exemplifies the current government’s policy of total control over the public and private space.

Paradoxically, a place historically associated with intellectual development, cultural exchange and artistic creativity, looks now like a police state. The principles of “Aysh, Hurriya wa Adala Ijtimaiya”, “Bread, Freedom and Social Justice”, circulating in that same area in 2011 have rapidly been substituted by an atmosphere of constant fear, where any activity, movement and word is under tight control.

The question remains whether the government’s repressive measures in a space that was once the symbol of Egyptian’s fight for freedom will succeed in redefining its past distinguished identity.

Zahrat al-Bustan, Local Cafë in Downtown Cairo with graffiti of prominent Egyptian figures. Photo by Veronica Merlo

For now, we can only silently observe the changing environment and society animating the area. A process of transformation where the concept of “the square” as formulated in the Egyptian revolution has merely become a memory, or rather “a story to tell in narrations”, as Egyptian rock band Cairokee warned in its famous revolutionary song “al Midan”, the Square.


O you the square, where were you long ago? […]

sometimes I am afraid that we become just a memory

we get away from you then the idea dies and fades away

and we go back to forget what happened

and you become a story to tell in narrations

يا يا الميدان كنت فين من زمان

ساعات بخاف نبقي ذكري

نبعد عنك تموت الفكرة

ونرجع تاني ننسي اللي فات

ونحكي عنك في الحكايات


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Le comité d’éthique des médias: un rempart à la liberté?

Dans le cadre des 12ème assises internationales du Journalisme de Tours, le collectif #Payetoiunjournaliste a proposé de donner la parole aux citoyens sur la question des médias avec la création d’un comité d’éthique. Avec une telle instance, certains journalistes craignent que leur liberté d’exercer soit menacée.

Un comité d’éthique, comment ça marche ?

Le comité d’éthique est un organe professionnel d’autorégulation composé de représentants des journalistes, des éditeurs et du public. Cette composition peut changer d’un pays à l’autre. En Italie, on y trouve uniquement des journalistes ; en Ukraine, des journalistes et du public ; en Grande-Bretagne, des éditeurs et du public ou encore en Allemagne où sont regroupés journalistes et éditeurs.

Aucun représentant des pouvoirs exécutif, judiciaire ou législatif ne participe au conseil puisqu’il est totalement indépendant de l’Etat et de la politique.

Ces professionnels et non-professionnels se saisissent des plaintes et revendications de lecteurs, d’auditeurs, de téléspectateurs, d’internautes. Ils émettent un avis après enquête contradictoire, sur la base de la déontologie journalistique. Cet avis est par la suite rendu public.

Les décisions favorables au plaignant sont parfois accompagnées d’un blâme à l’intention du journaliste et/ou du média. Le comité d’éthique condamne tout ce qui n’est pas passible de sanctions au tribunal. On note notamment la réprobation des publicités déguisées en articles, des « ménages » (animations de débats rémunérés au sein d’une entreprise ou organisation), des bidonnages comme la fausse interview de Fidel Castro par Patrick Poivre d’Arvor, des conflits d’intérêts ou encore des atteintes à la vie privée.

Copyright Dessin-Schwartz pour la SNJ

Et ailleurs en Europe ?

Depuis 1950, de nombreux pays se sont dotés d’un conseil de presse appelé aussi conseil de déontologie des médias ou comité d’éthique. On en compte aujourd’hui une centaine dans le monde.

La majorité des pays européens, une vingtaine, dont la Grande-Bretagne, l’Allemagne, la Suède, la Belgique, ont créé ces instances. En France, l’idée revient périodiquement d’instaurer un conseil de déontologie du journalisme.

La France est-elle en retard par rapport à ses voisins européens ?

Depuis les prémices du mouvement des Gilets Jaunes, la défiance de la population vis-à-vis des médias n’a jamais été aussi forte.

Un contexte qui amène à réfléchir à l’éventualité de créer un conseil de presse français. Certains y voient l’occasion de s’interroger sur la profession.

Copyright L’Express – 1964 – janvier

Le 15 mars, aux Assises du Journalisme, le ministre de la Culture Franck Riester a affirmé qu’il faut « retisser le lien entre les Français et les médias ».

Il existe déjà en France des comités d’éthiques spécifiques pour certains groupes de médias. Radio France, Le Monde ou encore France Télévisions disposent d’une chartre de déontologie et d’un conseil de presse à leur échelle.

Pierre Ganz, vice-président de l’Observatoire de la déontologie de l’information, durant les Assises de Tours note que « si tous les médias acceptent que leur travail soit examiné par un organisme indépendant, ce serait un outil qui permettrait de regagner la confiance du public. »


Il faut « retisser le lien entre les Français et les médias« .

Franck Riester, ministre de la Culture


Favorable à la création d’une telle instance, il est rejoint sur ce point par le SNJ (Syndicat Nationale des Journalistes).

Dans ses dix engagements, le syndicat national des journalistes note: « Le SNJ appelle [de ses vœux] la création d’une instance de déontologie paritaire et même tripartite, associant des représentants des salariés, des employeurs et du public. »

« Je propose qu’il existe un tribunal professionnel qui puisse être saisi et qui ait le pouvoir de sanction symbolique contre les menteurs, les tricheurs, les enfumeurs. Je vais donc lancer avec mes amis une pétition en ce sens. »

Ce sont les propos tenus par Jean-Luc Mélenchon suite à son passage dans l’Emission Politique sur France 2. En décembre 2017, au cours de sa campagne présidentielle, Jean-Luc Mélenchon relance l’idée d’une instance d’auto régulation en lançant une pétition plaidant pour la création d’un « conseil de déontologie du journalisme ».

Le chef de fil de la France Insoumise avait déclaré sur son blog que « la haine des médias et de ceux qui les animent est juste et saine ».

Devenu l’ex ministre de la culture, Françoise Nyssen (mai 2017 à octobre 2018) qui était alors en poste, est allée dans le sens de Jean-Luc Mélenchon en annonçant le lancement d’une mission sur la déontologie de la presse.

Un conseil qui, en cas de création prochaine, aura à sa tête l’ancien PDG de l’AFP et de l’INA Emmanuel Hoog.

Les inconvénients du comité d’éthique

Une limite commune à la majorité des comités d’éthique concerne la justice.

En effet, sur le plan juridique, le Conseil de Presse est une association à but non lucratif. Lorsque ce dernier diffuse un blâme, il ne dispose d’aucune immunité. Il risque donc de devoir répondre de ses propos devant les tribunaux. En d’autres termes, le journaliste ayant reçu un blâme peut se retourner contre le comité de presse et l’astreindre devant les tribunaux.

Ceux-ci auront à déterminer si les évaluations, jugements et opinions exprimés par le Conseil ont ou non pas, un caractère fautif au regard de la loi.

Outre les limites juridiques constatées, certains journalistes expriment leurs craintes face à une forme de censure de la presse. Selon le SPIIL, le syndicat de la presse indépendante d’information en ligne, cette idée n’arrive pas au bon moment, le contexte politique étant bien trop défavorable.

copyright Plantu – Le Monde

Sur son site internet, le syndicat déclare qu’il « n’appartient pas à l’État de susciter la création d’une instance d’autorégulation de la presse. Un Conseil né sous de tels auspices n’aura jamais la légitimité nécessaire. Seule une réflexion sereine issue de la profession elle-même et non du pouvoir politique permettrait d’envisager les contours d’un Conseil de déontologie ambitieux.« 

Pour le directeur de la rédaction d’OWNI, Guillaume Dasquié, la création d’un organe auto-régulateur n’est pas envisageable puisque le journalisme est « un milieu qui vit grâce à ses conflits, petits et grands. […] Les métiers de la presse se nourrissent de diversités mais aussi de divergences, d’antagonismes, voire de rapports concurrentiels animés. »

Il n’est donc pas concevable selon Guillaume Dasquié de créer une instance régulant la moindre discorde dans le but de lisser le paysage médiatique.

Clash

Il n’existe pas d’instance nationale contrôlant l’éthique des journalistes. Le 16 juillet 2014, une proposition de loi présentée par Jean-François Mancel allant en ce sens n’avait finalement pas vu le jour.

Dans cette proposition, le député UMP s’inspire en grande partie du projet du Conseil de déontologie journalistique de la Belgique francophone. Il explique que les Français ne comprennent pas qu’une corporation aussi puissante que le journalisme ne soit pas encadrée par un conseil indépendant.

En 2014, le fossé entre médias et citoyens se veut important ; la communication entre les deux parties est au bord de la rupture.

Le député rapporte « que 77 % des Français ne font pas confiance aux médias« . Composée de 8 articles, cette proposition n’a finalement pas convaincu les résistants comme Olivier Da Lage, journaliste à RFI. Il reproche au député de vouloir « inventer l’ordre des journalistes » et « mettre sous tutelle » la profession.

A ce jour, un comité d’éthique est en passe d’être créé en France. Jeudi 16 mai s’est tenu à Vanves une réunion entre éditeurs, journalistes et représentants du public pour poser les bases d’un futur conseil de médiation et de déontologie journalistique. L’objectif ? Que cette instance voit le jour d’ici la fin de l’année 2019.

Nouvelle avancée sur ce « Conseil de l’ordre des journalistes ». Cédric O, secrétaire d’Etat au Numérique, invite les journalistes à s’organiser pour lutter contre les fausses nouvelles et la désinformation, faute de quoi c’est l’Etat qui s’en chargera. Interview par Reuters le 20 juin 2019

The State of the Press in Egypt: a Fallen Champion

Ranked 161st in the World Press Freedom Index 2018 from Reporters Without Borders, contemporary Egypt is characterized by a rapid deterioration in press freedom, subject to severe censorship and draconian state control.

Though Egypt is the source of the spread of the printing press in the Arab world, successive governments have progressively limited freedom of expression up until today, in which one wonders what remains of a space for independant, critical, and free media coverage.

The press in Egypt: on the rise in the 19th century

It is difficult to imagine that what has become a prison for journalists was once an important place for breaking news and broadcasting in the Arab world.

Returning to the era of Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt, the printing press rapidly developed throughout the 19th century, with the emergence of outstanding newspapers circulating the streets of Cairo.

Notably, Al-Ahram, founded in 1875, proved itself as one of the country’s most read papers. Today, Al-Ahram is a major point of reference for many daily newspapers in the country.However, the variety of Egyptian media does not reflect diversity in its content.

In reality, media publishing has been standardized to the point of becoming a mere reflection of the inescapable discourse imposed by the state.

How does the Egyptian State censor the freedom to inform?

Observing the current media landscape illustrates this lack of freedom of expression and information in today’s Egypt.

The process of restructuring the media through a systematic transfer of ownership is indicative of what Reporters Without Borders calls the « Sisyphication of the media.”

In this respect, the Media Ownership Monitor launched by Reporters Without Borders in Egypt is highly informative. The survey of structures, relationships and key actors that control the Egyptian media not only reveals the state’s pervasive presence in broadcasting, but also denounces the intervention of security and intelligence services.

This is the case of the broadcasting and satellite television sector dominated by The Egyptian Media Group, which is indirectly controlled by the secret service. Similarly, the printing sector is either concentrated around well-known state-owned enterprises, such as the Al-Ahram Establishment, or linked to private institutions owned by wealthy businessmen loyal to the regime.

Unsurprisingly, in this context of total state control, independent media and journalists are running a higher and higher risk. In addition to banning hundreds of websites, prison seems to be the regime’s preferred instrument for silencing disagreeing voices.

According to a study conducted by Reporters Without Borders in early 2019, at least 32 journalists have been arrested on charges of « threatening national security » or « defamation ».

Their profiles suggest that all journalists working independently or on sensitive topics are almost certainly destined for prison. This is the case of Mahmoud Abu Zeid, better known as Shawkan, a photographer who specializes in recording the violent repression of the Muslim Brotherhood, or Mohammed al Husseini Hassan, a journalist investigating current inflation in Egypt. The list could go on and on…

Yet this extreme state control is not limited to eliminating freedom of expression in journalism.

A repression of all forms if the freedom to inform

The repression is so widespread that it can affect all areas. Not only activists, but also poets, singers, artists, researchers, writers and bloggers can all potentially fall into the category of people who pose a threat to national security.

As a result, freedom of expression poses a very high risk under what the Deputy Director of the Project on Democracy in the Middle East (POMED), Andrew Miller, called « the most repressive government in modern Egyptian history.”

Local and international human rights organizations relentlessly denounce the practices of the Egyptian authorities that are aimed at suppressing peaceful dissent. Because of this dedicated work, they face serious threats. Among other things, POMED refers to the case of certain human rights defenders of notable NGOs, such as the Cairo Institute for the Study of Human Rights (CNCDH), the Arab Network for Information on Human Rights human rights (ANHRI), the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), accused in a lawsuit « of offending the Egyptian state, of threatening the national security and of harming the country’s interests ».

Once again, fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression and information are flagrantly violated under the current state of emergency in the name of the fight against terrorism and national security.

Censorship, danger and prison are key words that come to mind when one thinks about journalism in Egypt.

In a country where journalism has become a crime, as the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy reports, freedom of expression and information may become mere abstract concepts in people’s minds. This is an alarming scenario that erases even the last traces of Egypt’s distinguished past as champion of the advancement of the press and information in the Arab world.

Zoom: being a journalist in contemporary Egypt

In examining the general situation of freedom of expression and information in contemporary Egypt, it is natural to wonder what journalistic work might look like in this difficult context.

We asked Yahia Dabbous, an Egyptian student currently studying at Sciences Po School of International Business, to describe his experience as an editor of the online paper Egypt Independent.

His testimony emphasizes not only the severe control exercised by the state over the published content, but also the resulting instinctive tendency of self-censorship.

In a context where any subject can be extremely sensitive, the question of what is allowed and not allowed becomes an all-consuming thought. As a result, the journalist’s pen travels preferably within these imposed (or self-imposed) limits, leaving little or no room for the journalist’s own analysis, accuracy and creativity.

Yahia gives us several examples to illustrate the difficulty of writing and publishing articles in today’s Egypt.

Notably, in the days leading up to the presidential election of 2018, reporting news of the various arrests and withdrawals of potential candidates against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi proved to be a delicate task.

For information only, the article would mention such an event; for security reasons, it would only quote the official statement, with no subsequent comments.

As Yahia describes his experience, and new facets of the profession of journalism in Egypt emerge. Among other things, the economic aspect presents itself as an urgent challenge for journalists.

Yahia recalls several colleagues who had to work two jobs to earn enough. According to Yahia, a journalist’s salary can not guarantee enough resources, especially to support a family. While journalism in today’s Egypt is clearly a risky and not very rewarding profession at various levels, Yahia’s story also highlights the ethical issues that journalists face when working for newspaper.

Media coverage of the story of Mahmoud Abu Zeid, a journalist selected for the UNESCO Press Freedom Prize and imprisoned for covering the 2013 Rabaa event, is an example of such a challenge.

The national press mainly broadcast the official narrative around a journalist described as « terrorist » and « criminal » by the regime. Knowing Mahmoud Abu Zeid personally, his story, and his work, Yahia and other editors refused to publish such an article and were faced with the only alternative: to leave the paper.

Thus ended prematurely Yahia’s experience as an editor of Egypt Independent. Yahia’s story reflects our understanding of the implications of this drastic state control on the media.

What may sometimes appear as the abstract concept of freedom of expression is rather a primordial human right whose impact on society and individuals has never been more concrete. 

The state of the press in Afghanistan: the country where journalists die the most

In the first two months of 2019, the Afghan Media Community lost three of its members in two successive incidents. Javid Noori, a radio journalist, was executed by the Taliban on January 5, 2019 in the western province of Farah. The second attack targeted the premises of a radio station in the northeast of the country and caused the deaths of two journalists, Shafiq Aria and Rahimullah Rahmani. On the heels of 2018, the year 2019 in Afghanistan is already announced as one of the most deadly for practicing journalists.

In 2018, Reporters Without Borders ranked Afghanistan as the worst country in the world for journalists, with the assassination of 15 news professionals in one year. The NGO Nai SOMA -Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan- recorded in 2019 a number of violent acts committed against the press in the country, from the killing of these three journalists, to the armed attacks against editorial staff, including radio stations in the provinces and Taliban threats against two journalists in the south of the country, as well as the incessant insults that all professionals deal with every day.

An Afghan policy for the diversity of the press

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 and the media law passed by the Afghan Parliament in its wake, media growth has been exponential.

Afghanistan is the birthplace of more than 500 newspapers, 76 TV channels, nearly 150 radio stations and numerous news agencies. There is momentum towards plurality, thanks to the success of the government, but journalists today pay a high price.

Omnipresent insecurity

Working as a journalist in war-torn Afghanistan is not easy and security is a major issue for all professionals in the country.

According to the Ministry of Defense, there are about 20 regional and international terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, the result of a 40-year war that has hit the population and journalists hard. The number of acts of violence against the profession have been steadily increasing since 2014 and since the withdrawal of foreign troops.

196 cases of violence were recorded in 2018 by Nai SOMA, including killings, beatings, violent injuries, insults, repeated arrests, kidnapping, attacks on editors and reduction of news sources.

A double bombing on the streets of Kabul on April 30, 2018 resulted in the death of nine journalists, including Sha Marai Fezi, an AFP correspondent photographer, and six reporters from Radio Free Europe and Tolo News, making it the worst attack in the world against the press since 2009.

Who is behind the violence against journalists?

Committees for the protection of journalists emphasize the responsibility of the Afghan government for the ongoing insecurity of journalists in the field.

Insurgent groups

The Taliban and ISIS, directly involved in crimes against humanity, are primarily responsible for attacking news professionals in Afghanistan, targeting journalists in order to silence the country’s press.

The April 2018 bombing of nine journalists and the assassination of seven members of the TOLO TV team in Kabul in 2016 are just some examples of the violence of these Taliban groups against the profession of journalism.

The attack perpetrated in November 2017 on the building of the TV channel Shamshad TV is an illustration of the war carried out by ISIS.

Afghan officials, security forces and militants

Afghan journalists and reporters who publish investigations and articles that are critical of the government also face threats and violence from the representatives of the Afghan public authorities.

According to the NAI SOMA, the government and its officials are responsible for about 62 cases of violence against press professionals.

The last obstacle to freedom of the press in the country: the barons of war and their permanent intimidation against any author of articles harmful to their business.

Self-censorship

Many media professionals have practiced self-censorship as a pledge of survival; The government and other perpetrators of journalists’ rights violations play a key role in increasing the pressure on the shoulders of “those who wish to speak,” and maintain the vicious circle of self-censorship.

The imbalance between security and self-censorship of the journalist is particularly noticeable in the treatment of subjects related to drugs, the activities of terrorist groups and other types of illegal traffic.

© Helmand Media office

The precarity of Afghan journalists

While the perception of their profession can appear rather positive to Afghan journalists thanks to the types of contracts that are satisfactory for many of them (according to the internal reports) and clearly defined compensation, many abuses and a certain precariousness have been deplored by many professionals.

The pressure exercised by the press bosses on their employees is commonplace and feeds on the legal vagueness that covers many contracts. Legal remedies are very often prevented, a situation that makes it even more difficult for journalists to work calmly. Many journalists and reporters based in Afghanistan have faced unfair dismissals from their bosses.

Financial dependence of the Afghan media

Independence of the media in Afghanistan is made impossible by the dependency that binds them to aid from abroad, which come from certain national opposition parties or are even instrumentalized by foreign powers.

The « donor » often matches their funding with an agenda of topics to be addressed by the recipient newspaper, thus serving their own interests over those of the general public. Media outlets with financial difficulties must dismiss their teams or are forced to close their editorial staff.

The exile of journalists

According to the NAI SOMA more than 300 journalists fled Afghanistan for Europe in 2015 following the violence on the ground. There are departures of media professionals in groups of 15 or 20 accompanied by their families.

The violence of exile adds to all of the violence that has come before. In 2016, photojournalist Feroz Muzafar and his family were killed off the coast of Turkey with one last hope of reaching Europe, adding to the total number of Afghan journalists who have died for their jobs.

Constitutional amendments: A decisive step towards the total oblivion of human rights in Egypt?

On February 3, 2019 the Egyptian parliament proposed a series of constitutional amendments that would involve most remarkably an extension of the presidential limit mandate, an expansion of the role of the military in the state and a further decrease of judicial independence. After two months of work on the final version of these constitutional amendments, the two further steps of the final parliamentary vote and the following popular referendum are approaching. It is in this context that debates arise surrounding the implications of this potential change and, most importantly, its concrete impact on the already vanishing human rights in Egypt.

Amnesty International’s public statement on April 8 urging the Egyptian parliament to reject the proposed constitutional amendments in reason of their “devastating consequences for human rights” rings the bells of the danger. The proposed amendments to the constitution undoubtedly represent a crucial step in Egypt’s history on multiple levels.

Naturally, many questions arise concerning the future of human rights such as freedom of expression in an epoch when, more than ever, they are already outrageously neglected.

Ranked 161th in the Reporters Sans Frontières’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index, Egypt under the current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been suffering from a deploring suppression of freedom of expression that takes a multiplicity of forms. In addition to arbitrary arrests of activists, journalists, bloggers, artists, writers, researchers, the state exercises a draconian state control that leaves little or no space for dissenting voices.

Numerous Human Rights Organizations unremittingly denounce the current scenario by reporting the innumerous state practices that undermine human rights. Among others, a report by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) reveals that in the first 11 months of 2018 at least 32 people were executed and 581 death sentences were issued.

Under such circumstances, one could look at these constitutional amendments as a mere reaffirmation of the existing state policy of disrespect for human rights. However, the significance of these constitutional amendments is considerable and its implications are far-reaching.

Among the major proposed changes, amended Article 140 would extend the presidential term from four to six years. Through a strategic mechanism that “resets” the current president’s clock in office, al-Sisi will thus be allowed to legally stay in power until 2034. The executive will also take increasing control over the judiciary, crippling judicial independence. In addition, the military political role’s will be expanded under amended Article 2000, making the Armed Forces responsible for “maintaining the constitution and democracy, safeguarding the basic components of the state, and its civil nature, in addition to the people’s achievements and individual rights and freedoms”.

Evidently, the language of the proposed amendments suggests a further consolidation of the president and military power, deleting for good even the last few liberal traces of the 2014 Constitution. Numerous Human Rights Organizations have expressed their concerns for the future of the country if these amendments were to be approved. Distinctly, Project on the Middle East Democracy (POMED) warns against an alarming move “towards a personalist dictatorship under al-Sisi’s control”.

Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International Magdalena Mughrabi’s statement highlighting that these amendments “would grant Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and security forces free rein to further abuse their powers and suppress peaceful dissent for years to come” helps grasp the dimension of the issues at stake. While perpetuating the current overwhelming state control  that characterizes today’s Egypt, under the amended constitution any possibility of politically or legally challenge the indisputable power of the government will vanish.

As Baudouin Long, associated researcher at CEDEJ (Centre d’études et de documentation économiques, juridiques et sociales) of Cairo, highlights in a public conference on April 3 in Paris, the idea of substantial change and consolidation of power through legal instruments such as the constitution was already conceived in Mubarak’s era. Now al-Sisi proves in facts to be determined to go down this road, leading some analysts to assess al-Sisi’s government as the most repressive regime of modern Egyptian history.

In an article for Foreign Policy titled “Worse than Mubarak”, POMED’s Deputy Director for Research Amy Hawthorne and Deputy Director for Policy Andrew Miller compare the two regimes and suggest that through an institutionalization of his political system “al-Sisi is bringing a new form of totalitarianism to Egypt”.

While the Egyptian streets start being filled with banners “Vote yes” in preparation for the highly probable referendum scheduled between April 19 to 24 according to Beirut-based newspaper Al Akhbar, voices of dissent spring up. Together with the opposition remarkably expressed by the Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party, Karama Party, Conservatives Party, Tagammu Party and Reform and Development Party, prominent Egyptian figures such as the award-winning actors Amr Waked and Khaled Abol Naga condemn the proposed amendments.

Despite the current state of repression -that will likely further degenerate in the imminent future- not all Egyptians are ready to stop expressing themselves and exercising the primordial right of letting individuals’ voices and opinions freely be heard for which they have stood up for in the 2011 Revolution.

The graffiti on the walls of Zamalek neighborhood captured by the Cairo-based journalist Francesca Cicardi is one example of this strenuous resistance in the name of freedom of expression and respect for human rights.