19 March 2019 Egypt tightens restrictions on media and social networks

Egypt has imposed new rules that allow the state to block websites and social media accounts for “fake news” or incitement, tightening previous rules approved by legislators in July last year. In practice, the Supreme Media Regulatory Council is now allowed to block websites and social media accounts with more than 5000 followers, if they are deemed a threat to national security. It can also impose penalties of up to 250.000 Egyptian pounds ($14.400), without having to obtain a court order. Mohamed Abdel-Hafiz, a board member of the journalists’ union, said the government was threatening journalists with “vaguely defined national security violations, as well as vaguely defined political, social or religious norms”. Gamal Abdel-Rahim, another journalists’ union board member said: “Blocking websites is not included in the laws. The constitution itself states that websites and newspapers cannot be shut down without a court order.” Since late 2017, around 500 websites, including news outlets and pages of rights groups have been blocked, according to the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression, an Egyptian human rights watchdog group.