Egypt faces backlash on freedom of expression



The US State Department and the European Union have urged Egypt’s government  to uphold basic rights to freedom of expression after security forces stormed the Press Syndicate.

Egypt’s police faced fresh calls for overhauls on Monday following the previous day’s unprecedented raid on a Cairo press-union building and the arrest of two journalists critical of the government, The Wall Street Journal reports:

Police faced international pressure in February when Italian doctoral student Guilio Regeni (right) was found dead in a Cairo ditch, his body marked by signs of severe torture. Italian officials and Egyptian rights groups speculated he had been killed while in police custody, an accusation the Interior Ministry denied.

Notes containing internal instructions for Egypt’s Interior Ministry have been leaked to the media, Associated Press adds:

Egypt’s journalists’ union has called for the dismissal of the interior minister and launched an open-ended sit-in at its headquarters in downtown Cairo over the two journalists’ arrests, describing them as “illegal” and “unprecedented.” Many newspapers splashed the sit-in at the Journalists’ Syndicate building on their front page, with state-run Al-Ahram, close to the presidency and normally a fervent government supporter, running an editorial calling for Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar’s resignation and saying it was inevitable.

In the ministry document, one memo described the situation as a “deliberate escalation” by certain union leaders who intended to exploit the move for internal political gain, adding that “a ferocious media campaign should be expected by all the press in solidarity with the union.”

“Egypt’s government is ignoring the basic right of workers to organize independently,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government seems intent on stifling the freedom Egypt’s labor movement only gained after years of struggle that culminated in the 2011 uprising.”

Despite Egypt’s February 2011 revolution, workers are still struggling to achieve legal guarantees for full freedom of association, notes the Solidarity Center, a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy:

On March 12, 2011, the International Labor Organization (ILO) hailed the former interim Egyptian Minister of Manpower and Migration’s historic recognition of workers’ right to form independent trade unions, free from government interference, that represent their interests. However, this right has yet to be enshrined in national law. Instead, the government issued amendments to the trade union law that in part grants the government the authority to appoint members to vacant union board posts.

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