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Egypt muffles press with ‘fake news’ charges as elections loom

Members of Egypt’s media are facing increasing restrictions in reporting as presidential elections approach, with journalists jailed on “fake news” charges, Reuters has reported.
Journalist Mostafa al-Aasar was jailed on 4 February when he planned to produce a documentary allegedly critical of Egypt President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who is almost guaranteed to win upcoming elections after jailing or silencing challengers.

Aasar had not yet started filming the documentary and had requested interviews from former Sisi supporters when he was picked up along with another journalist who happened to be travelling with him, Hassan al-Banna.

A call he made to arrange an interview was likely monitored by intelligence and allowed police to arrest the journlists as they travelled through Cairo.

Egypt’s media already work under extremely challenging conditions with journalists frequently jailed or disappeared who are critical of the government.

The government is now squeezing journalists further by arresting critics on new charges of promoting “fake news”.

It follows a BBC report about the widespread use of torture in Egypt with elements of the regime pressing for the British broadcaster’s Cairo bureau to be closed.

“The state is now using (fake news charges) to harass journalists – anyone that publishes information they don’t want,” Fatma Serag of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) told Reuters.

Egypt’s notorious public prosecution – which has described critical news as “forces of evil” – opened a hotline this week for Egyptians to report “fake news”.

On 1 March, Sisi said anyone who criticised the police or army – which he is head of – are guilty of treason and can be jailed.

One of those arrested in this new climate of fear have been journalists associated with the regime.

TV host Khairy Ramadan was jailed and released on bail this week after reporting that police officers were struggling on their salaries.

Egyptian expatriates have already cast their votes for the election, which Sisi is almost guaranteed to win by a landslide after a campaign of intimidation against opponents.

Elections in Egypt will take place between 26 and 28 March.

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