Human rights groups protest against new cybersecurity laws scheduled for Egypt warning of a grim future.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has signed a cybersecurity law allowing the government broad authority to block websites while setting jail sentences and jail fines for violations. Amnesty International says the new law gives ‘the state near-total control over print, online and broadcast media.’
Instability and terrorism concerns
The legislation on cybercrime means websites can be blocked in Egypt if deemed to constitute a threat to national security or the economy. Anyone found guilty of running, or even visiting, such sites could face prison or a fine. Authorities say the new measures are aimed at tackling instability and terrorism, claiming there is a ‘need to organise digital news platforms’ through the new laws. There is also another cybersecurity law pending before the president, which places all twitter feeds with more than 5,000 followers under heightened government scrutiny. Mr El-Sisi has been in power since 2013 and won an election this past spring with 92 percent of the vote, having run virtually unopposed on a 40 per cent turn out. President Sisi's supporters say he has brought stability, but critics argue he has stifled democracy.
Human rights groups accuse the government of trying to crush all political dissent in the country. The Cairo-based Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression said more than 500 websites had already been blocked in Egypt prior to the new law being signed. Human Rights Watch has warned that Egyptian authorities were increasingly using counterterrorism and state-of-emergency laws and courts to unjustly prosecute journalists, activists, and critics for peaceful criticism. Najia Bounaim, Director of Campaigns in North Africa at Amnesty International, said ‘these proposed laws would increase the Egyptian government`s already broad powers to monitor, censor and block social media and blogs, as well as criminalize content that violates vaguely defined political, social or religious norms.’ Ms Bounaim warned, ‘this grim situation will be made much worse if these restrictions are written into law, giving the Egyptian authorities sweeping new powers to monitor online content. It is not too late for the authorities to withdraw these laws and commit to allowing a safe and open space for freedom of expression and association in Egypt.’