Egypt's government gets harsh criticism for blocking news websites

Egypt's government has been harshly criticized for continuing to block some news websites in the country. According to Mohamed al-Taher, a researcher at the Cairo-based the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), since 3 February 2018, a number of news outlets which include The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN, have been inaccessible to mobile users in Egypt.

Egypt is due to have its presidential elections scheduled for next month and the Committee to Protect Journalists believes the blocking of news websites is related to this.

“Freedom of the press is essential to any election process. The Egyptian government should immediately take steps to ensure that all news websites and internet tools and services are available to citizens seeking to get and share information,” said Sherif Mansour, Middle East, and North Africa Program Coordinator at CPJ.

CPJ has indicated that a Google spokesperson told them that they are aware of the problem of news websites being blocked in Egypt, and has “decided to suspend directing users in Egypt to Google AMP [pages] while [they] look into the issue.” The Google spokesperson, however, did not directly address CPJ's question about the problem's cause.

This is not the first time that Egypt's authorities have ordered that news websites be blocked from Internet users in the North Afrikan country. In May 2017, Egypt blocked several Qatar-linked online news publications such as Al-Jazeera, The Huffington Post Arabic, Qatari News Agency and more, accusing them of "fabricating news."

Egypt's government has been keen to silence any critical reporting ahead of the upcoming elections in March 2018. CPJ's research indicates that Egyptian authorities have used emergency measures, which were imposed in April 2017 after dozens were killed in an attack on two churches, to censor media outlets and publications, bring "false news" charges against journalists who contradict official statements, refer civilians to military trial, and hold journalists in pretrial detention indefinitely.

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