During the 18-day uprising that led to Hosni Mubarak's ouster, the government unleashed a systematic campaign to intimidate journalists and obstruct news coverage. Dozens of serious press freedom violations were recorded between January 25 and February 11, as police and government supporters assaulted journalists in the streets. One journalist was killed by sniper fire while covering the demonstrations. Authorities also detained scores of journalists, instituted a six-day Internet blackout, suspended mobile phone service, blocked satellite transmissions, revoked accreditations, erected bureaucratic obstacles for foreign reporters, confiscated equipment, and stormed newsrooms. After Mubarak's fall, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces showed its own hostility to critical news coverage. The council established a new censorship regime in March, telling editors they must obtain approval for coverage involving the armed forces. In July, the council reinstated the historically repressive Information Ministry; in September, it announced it would enforce the Mubarak-era Emergency Law that allows indefinite detention of civilians. Authorities raided broadcasters in September, October, and December, censored newspapers, and arrested critical bloggers. In October, a fatal confrontation between the military and civilians in front of the Television and Radio Union left dozens dead, including a journalist. The next month, at least 35 journalists were detained or assaulted while covering a week of demonstrations demanding the military hand over power to civilians. As the year ended, the first two rounds of parliamentary voting gave Islamist parties a significant lead over secular competitors.
Ahmad Mohamed Mahmoud, a journalist working for the newspaper Al- Ta'awun, was shot by a sniper on January 29 while filming violent confrontations between protesters and police. He died six days later. On October 9, Wael Mikhael, an Egyptian cameraman for the Coptic television broadcaster Al-Tareeq, was shot while filming violent clashes between Coptic Christian protesters and the military.
Two bloggers critical of the military were jailed in late year. Mikael Nabil Sanad was the first journalist to be detained in the post-Mubarak era, CPJ research shows. In December, an Egyptian court sentenced Sanad to two years in prison for “insulting the military” in writings that suggested the armed forces were a greater threat to Egyptians’ freedom than Mubarak had been. Alaa Abd el-Fattah was charged in November with “inciting violence against the military” among other antistate counts after he criticized the military’s actions in a deadly confrontation with Coptic Christian protesters.
CPJ documented 160 attacks on journalists and news facilities over the 18-day popular uprising. Journalists were consistently targeted by plainclothes and uniformed agents of the government, CPJ research shows.
Breakdown of attacks, from January 25 to February 11:
28: Equipment seizures
10: Newsroom raids
At the height of public demonstrations, Egypt tried to contain dissent by shutting down Internet access. Several other regional governments facing civil unrest tried this tactic as well, all with limited success. Historically, some Asian governments have also used Internet shutdowns to quell dissent.
Other government disruptions of Internet service:
Nepal, 2005: After a declaration of martial law by the king, the Internet and telephone networks were shut down.
Burma, 2007: Recurrent Internet blackouts during the pro-democracy Saffron Revolution.
China, 2009: Internet connections cut in parts of Urumqi in northwestern Xinjiang in response to outbreaks of violence involving the predominantly Muslim Uighur minority.
Iran, 2009-11: Targeted slowdowns of the Internet, blocking of anti-censorship tools such as Tor and virtual private networks, and pervasive monitoring of Internet traffic.
Tunisia, 2010-11: Escalating censorship during the popular uprising, culminating in attempts by the authorities to obtain passwords of users of Gmail, Facebook, and Yahoo Mail.
Libya, 2011: Initially shut down by authorities on February 19, Libya's Internet sustained disruptions until August 22.
Syria, 2011: Sporadic slowdowns on certain websites, services such as Skype, and encrypted communication tools.
Egypt has the largest number of Facebook users in the Arab world, although penetration is greater in several regional countries, according to Facebook statistics. Journalists used social media extensively to disseminate information from Tahrir Square and other hot spots across the country.
Regional use and rankings:
Egypt: 8.9 million users, 11 percent of the population
Saudi Arabia: 4.5 million, 17 percent
Morocco: 3.9 million, 12 percent
Tunisia: 2.74 million, 26 percent
Algeria: 2.72 million, 7 percent
United Arab Emirates: 2.6 million, 57 percent
Do you believe the free flow of information must be protected? Sign the #RightToReport petition and demand that President Obama immediately:
1. Issue a presidential policy directive prohibiting the hacking and surveillance of journalists and media organizations.
2. Limit aggressive prosecutions that ensnare journalists and intimidate whistleblowers.
3. Prevent the harassment of journalists at the U.S. border.
Or click here to see the full petition, and join leading journalists like Christiane Amanpour, The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the AP Kathleen Carroll, and Arianna Huffington in signing on.