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Journalists In Egypt Face 'Unprecedented Pressures'


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has been banned and a court ordered the government to seize the assets of the Islamist group. These moves followed a major crackdown on Brotherhood supporters, with thousands arrested across the country. But the Brotherhood is not the only target. Journalists are also facing unprecedented pressures. With the military in control and the police emboldened, the space for freedom of speech is disappearing, as NPR's Leila Fadel reports from Cairo.

MOSAAB EL-SHAMY: It feels like people haven't completely, you know, woken up from the euphoria of ousting the Brotherhood and they haven't really realized the kind of nightmare, if we may say.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: That's Mosaab el-Shamy, a young freelance photographer. On August 14th when hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters were killed by security forces at sit-in camps in Cairo, Mosaab took pictures. For hours he snapped photographs of burned corpses and other horrors he never expected to see in Egypt. What bothers him most is the popular support for the crackdown.

EL-SHAMY: It has been obviously very, very sad to see people lose this humanity in them and be OK with such acts and justify, and even find positives about the current situation.

FADEL: On the same day as the mass killings, his brother Abdullah, a journalist with the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera news network, was arrested. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, since the military coup of July third, at least 40 journalists have been attacked and detained by security forces. TV stations have been shut down and media offices raided.

Mosaab has seen his brother once since his arrest. On that day, Mosaab says 700 families came to the prison to see loved ones who had also been swept up by the police. He says they are facing charges ranging from incitement to violence, to murder, to membership in a terrorist organization.

EL-SHAMY: And the problem, like I said, is a public will, and support for such acts of crackdown by the military.

FADEL: Only a couple of years ago people celebrated the end of the emergency law. It essentially gives the police and military authority to arrest anyone, anytime. Now that law is back in force and it was recently extended. Two Canadians, John Greyson and Tarek Loubani, were detained over a month ago while filming at a Brotherhood protest after curfew.

They are in Tora prison on the outskirts of Cairo. But they have not been charged with a crime. Now they're on a hunger strike in protest. One of the most prominent journalists in jail is Ahmed Abu Deraa. He worked in the violence-prone Sinai Peninsula, filing reports for an Egyptian newspaper and a TV channel that oppose the Brotherhood.

He also does a lot of work with foreign journalists, including NPR correspondents. Abu Deraa has been referred to military trial on charges of spreading false information and for being in a restricted military zone. At a press conference last week the spokesman for the army brought up Deraa's case.


COLONEL AHMED ALI: (foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Colonel Ahmed Ali accused him of making up stories about civilian deaths in the military operation in Sinai. He called the arrest part of non-traditional warfare, a war of information. Shaimaa AbulKhair is the Egypt researcher for the Committee to Protect Journalists. She says the media is in a very bad situation. She says officers are assigned to state television to tell programmers what they can air. Most channels critical of the government have been shut down and independent journalists who dare to criticize are attacked by their colleagues.

SHAIMAA ABULKHAIR: So far since the uprising in 2011, all the government came was not supportive to media. They all want to control the media.

AHMED SAIF: Yes, it is a very dangerous moment.

FADEL: Ahmed Saif is a renowned human rights defender who heads the Hisham Mubarak Law Center. He says with journalists under fire, it's only a matter of time before the government goes after human rights organizations.

SAIF: The real struggle in Egypt is about to what extent the army will be in power.

FADEL: The military, Saif says, has no plans to let go of power anytime soon. And right now most Egyptians support that. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.

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