Representatives from a number of websites recently blocked by the Egyptian government announced that they plan to pursue legal measures against the blocks during a press conference held at the Journalists Syndicate on Wednesday. Syndicate members and some oppositional parliamentarians were also in attendance.
The representatives said that they plan to submit an official complaint to the prosecutor general and agree on a unified group of defense lawyers, while two of the MPs present added that they had submitted memos to Parliament regarding the blockage.
It was announced on May 24 that an unknown executive authority banned a number of news websites in Egypt last week, including Mada Masr, for allegedly publishing content that “supports terrorism and extremism and deliberately spreads lies.”
The initial list of blocked sites included Al-Mesryoon and Masr Al-Arabiya, and three other websites, Al-Borsa news, Daily News Egypt and Cairo Portal, were also blocked several days later.
Head of the Supreme Media Regulatory Council Makram Mohammed Ahmed told the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper that the owners of Al-Borsa, Daily News Egypt and Al-Mesryoon have had their assets confiscated through a committee tasked with tracing the finances of the banned Muslim Brotherhood organization. He said this is likely “a judicial order that the council has no authority over.”
Ahmed also announced the formation of a committee within the council to address the legal status of Mada Masr, Masr Al-Arabiya and Cairo Portal, which is expected to meet on Sunday.
Member of Parliament Haitham al-Hariry said during the Wednesday press conference that he asked the blocked websites’ representatives to submit a legal memo to be sent to Parliament. He considers the blockage the most recent move in the state’s attack on journalists in Egypt, which has intensified over the last year.
Parliamentarian Ahmed Tantawi urged the government to respond to accusations that these websites were blocked illegally. He pointed out that the decision came in line with another decision to suspend the state-owned Sawt Al-Shaab channel which has aired parliamentary sessions since 2012. The suspension, according to Tantawi, comes ahead of Parliament’s expected discussion of the contentious agreement to transfer the sovereignty of the two Red Sea islands Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.
During the press conference several Journalists Syndicate board members commented on the blockage. Mohamed Saad Abdel Hafiz demanded that the executive authority behind the decision be named, while Amr Badr called it a “complete crime.” He warned that the campaign may extend to include print newspapers if the government manages to continue blocking these websites without any accountability.
The journalists also announced that they may take further escalatory measures next week, including a potential sit-in at the syndicate.