Egypt’s chief prosecutor wants close monitoring of the media

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CAIRO: Egypt’s chief prosecutor has claimed “forces of evil” are working inside the media to maliciously hurt the national interest as the country gears up for its presidential election.

Nabil Sadeq reminded his staff on Wednesday to monitor journalists’ work and initiate legal action against any news outlets deemed to be a threat to security — the latest sign the government is exerting growing pressure on political rivals and opposition activists.

A statement issued by the prosecutor’s office warned that “the forces of evil” — a favorite phrase of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi — are seeking “to undermine the security and safety of the nation through the broadcast and publication of lies and false news.”

His remarks came amid an escalating row with the BBC over an investigative report by the UK-based broadcaster examining the political situation in Egypt in the build-up to the March 26-28 election.

Entitled “Crushing Dissent in Egypt,” the documentary, which aired on Saturday, said torture is “routine nationwide” and featured interviews with several dissidents, including one who claimed to have been held without trial for more than two years and electrocuted while in government custody. “Anyone opposing the regime is at risk,” the documentary said.

These allegations have provoked a furious backlash from officials and government supporters in the Egyptian press. The State Information Service, which accredits and monitors foreign media, said the 23-minute program was “flagrantly fraught with lies” and violated “internationally recognized professional norms.”

In an attempt to rebut the BBC’s claims that the government has turned forced disappearances into “a trademark of the El-Sisi era,” one television channel invited a 23-year-old student whose case featured in the documentary on to a talk show. In her appearance, the student said she had not been detained by masked police but had run away from her mother, married and had a child.

The BBC has told Reuters it stands by the “integrity of our reporting teams.”

The journalist behind the documentary, Orla Guerin, has had an illustrious career, working in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. She received an honorary MBE in 2005 for her “outstanding service to broadcasting.”

Egypt’s presidential campaign began on Saturday, with the incumbent El-Sisi running against Mousa Mustafa Mousa, a relative unknown on the political scene.

El-Sisi came to power in 2013, ousting the democratically elected president and Muslim Brotherhood member Mohammed Mursi in a military coup after widespread public protests against his rule. He was subsequently elected in 2014, winning almost 97 percent of the vote, and is the overwhelming favorite to win another four-year term this time.

The government has arrested several of El-Sisi’s political rivals in recent weeks, including Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, founder of the Strong Egypt Party. He was accused of having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, placed on a terrorist watch list and had his assets frozen after giving media interviews critical of the government during a trip to the UK.

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