President Mubarak’s long-awaited 2006 press law reform turned out to be just a show. The media were quickly disillusioned by the many restrictions on their activities contained in the amendments to it. At least seven journalists were arrested during the year and dozens threatened or physically attacked.
Hopes had been raised by the prospect of a press law reform, but when President Hosni Mubarak presented the changes to parliament on 28 June, proposals by the national journalists’ union, notably to decriminalise media offences, had been ignored. Many privately-owned media-outlets protested and staged strikes and sit-ins.
The lower house (the People’s Assembly) approved the amendments to the criminal code on 10 July which contained 35 media offences carrying prison sentences. Only defamation of civil servants was decriminalised, though fines for this were doubled. Egyptian journalists can now be jailed for up to five years for “publishing false news,” defaming the president or foreign heads of state or “undermining national institutions” such as parliament and the armed forces.
Several TV crews were harassed, threatened or beaten by police during the year. More than a dozen local and foreign journalists were attacked on 10 May by anti-riot police blocking demonstrators and media from entering a court where two reformist judges were being tried. A crew of the privately-owned satellite station Dream TV was banned on 3 December from covering a protest against a garbage collection tax increase in Cairo and their film was seized. A few days later, police prevented an Al-Jazeera TV crew from covering a sit-in by thousands of students at Al-Azhar University in protest against the dismissal of the student union leader and two of his deputies.
The authorities were especially severe with Al-Jazeera journalists and the station’s Cairo bureau chief, Hussein Abdel Ghani, was arrested on 27 April while reporting on explosions in southern Sinai and accused of putting out “inaccurate news harmful to the country’s reputation.” He was the only journalist hauled before a state security court even though the same news had already been put out by many local and foreign media-outlets.
He was freed after paying heavy bail but at the end of the year was still banned from leaving the country, a way for the authorities to pressure local journalists working for foreign media. State security police also went to the home of Summer Said, of the British news agency Reuters, on 9 September and threatened members of her family.
The regime also cracked down on Internet freedom and at least seven cyber-dissidents were jailed in 2006. A State Council administrative court endorsed in June an information and communications ministry decision allowing the authorities to block, suspend or shut down websites considered a threat to “national security.” Blogger Kareem Amer was jailed on 6 November for posting criticism of Islam on his blog.