The government continues to repress independent journalism and blogging with fines, searches, the confiscation of money and equipment. There have been a few cases in which online journalists were imprisoned for their work, most notably two correspondents for Cubanet.org. One of them was sentenced to four years in prison in April 2007 for “precriminal social danger,” and the other was sentenced to seven years in November for “subversive propaganda.” More recent is the case of Dania Virgen Garcia, a blogger and journalist, who was arrested in April 2010 and sentenced to 20 months in prison on arbitrary charges; the authorities released her a few weeks following the arrest.
Prominent bloggers and activists face a variety of other forms of harassment and intimidation. In May 2008, during a public trial of dissident economist Martha Beatriz Roque, state television and Granma showed evidence of government hacking of dissidents’ Yahoo! accounts.33 Bloggers have been summoned for questioning, reprimanded, and had their domestic and international travel rights restricted.34 Luis Felipe Rojas, a blogger who “Internet En Cuba : Reglamento Para Los Proveedores De Servicos De Acceso A Internet” (Internet in Cuba: Regulations for Internet Service Providers), http://cubanosusa.com/opinion/editorial/42454-internet-en-cuba-reglamento-proveedoresacceso-internet.html, accessed on August 28, 2010.
See the website of Aduana General de la Republica de Cuba (Cuban Customs): http://www.aduana.co.cu/turista.htm.
Deisy Francis Mexidor, “Presentan evidencias irrefutables sobre actividad subversiva de Estados Unidos contra Cuba” [Irrefutable Evidence Is Presented of Subversive Activity Against Cuba], Granma, May 19, 2008, http://www.granma.cubaweb.cu/2008/05/19/nacional/artic20.html.
Steven L. Taylor, “Cuba vs. the Bloggers,” PoliBlog, December 6, 2008, http://www.poliblogger.com/index.phps=cuba+bloggers; Eduardo Avila, “Cuba: Government Officials Tell Bloggers to Cancel Planned Meeting,” Global Voices Advocacy, December 6, 2008, http://advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org/2008/12/06/cuba-government-officials-tell-bloggers-to-cancel-planned-meeting/;
CUBA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net documents human rights abuses, was taken for questioning and detained on numerous occasions, most recently in August 2010.35 Moreover, in recent years, the Cuban government refused on multiple occasions to issue Yoani Snchez a travel visa that would have allowed her to receive various prizes or honors overseas.36 Similarly, in May 2010, the government denied another blogger, Claudia Cadelo, a permission to leave Cuba to attend an international gathering of bloggers in Germany.Marc Cooper, “Cuba’s Blogger Crackdown,” Mother Jones, December 8, 2008, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2008/12/cubas-blogger-crackdown.
For more information, see Rojas’ blog Crossing the Barbed Wire, http://cruzarlasalambradaseng.wordpress.com/.
“Cuba Refuses to Give Blogger Visa to Collect Prize,” Agence France-Presse, May 6, 2008. On Yoani Sanchez being denied visa to Brazil on July 2010 see http://www.google.com/hostednews/epa/article/ALeqM5jSr2TuI94zsTbnak2Il-C-p44gcA.
On Yoani Snchez denied visa to travel to receive a special recognition from the Maria Moors Cabot Prize committee in New York on October 2009 see, http://www.americasquarterly.org/yoani-sanchez-cabot-award.
Claudia Cadelo, “Confessions Regarding Utopian Journey,” translated by Octavo Cerco, May 12, 2010, http://octavocercoen.blogspot.com/2010/05/confessions-regarding-utopian-journey.html CUBA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net EGYPT 2009 POPULATION: 80.4 million INTERNET FREEDOM Partly Partly INTERNET PENETRATION: 24 percent STATUS Free Free WEB 2.0 APPLICATIONS BLOCKED: No Obstacles to Access 13 SUBSTANTIAL POLITICAL CENSORSHIP: No Limits on Content 12 BLOGGERS/ONLINE USERS ARRESTED: Yes Violations of User Rights 26 PRESS FREEDOM STATUS: Partly Free Total 51 EDITOR’S NOTE:
The following report covers developments in Egypt until December 31, 2010. However, events that have occurred since the end of the coverage period have significantly altered the country’s political and internet freedom landscape. On January 25, Egyptians took to the streets as part of widespread protests against President Hosni Mubarak, demanding that he step down.
Social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter played a strategic role in mobilizing citizens and disseminating news. The authorities soon responded with intermittent blocks on access to such tools and to the websites of prominent independent newspapers. Then, in an extreme measure, from January 27 to February 2, the government, cut off all internet access and mobile-phone services in the country. A large number of bloggers and online activists were also detained during the protests, including Google executive Wael Ghonim, who disappeared on January 28, and was released from government detention on February 7.
On February 11, Mubarak stepped down, and the government ceded power to the Egyptian Army, while all detained journalists were freed. However, tensions between citizens and the army have since surfaced. On March 28, military police arrested blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad for criticizing the lack of transparency in the armed forces. On April 11, he was sentenced to three years in prison.
INTRODUCTION While the Egyptian government has aggressively and successfully sought to expand access to the internet as an engine of economic growth, its security forces have increasingly attempted to curtail the use of new technologies for disseminating and receiving sensitive political information. Rather than relying on technical content filtering or monitoring, they typically employ “low-tech” methods such as intimidation, legal harassment, detentions, and realworld surveillance of online dissidents. The growing crackdown is a response to increased EGYPT FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net internet-based activism among Egyptians in the last few years, which has given rise to political opposition movements such as the April 6 Youth Movement and the National Coalition for Change. The authorities’ desire to suppress web-based and traditional media became even more evident in advance of the November 2010 parliamentary elections.
The internet was first introduced in Egypt in 1993 through the Egyptian Universities Network and the Egyptian cabinet’s Information and Decision Support Center (IDSC). The general public gained access in 1995, but the technology did not really take off until 2002, when the government introduced a “Free Internet” initiative, whereby anyone with a telephone line and a computer could access the internet for the price of a local call (US$0.an hour). To date, there are no laws regulating internet use in Egypt, although the government represses internet activism using the Emergency Law, which has been in effect since 1981.
OBSTACLES TO ACCESS Access to digital communications has grown exponentially since it was first made available to the public in the mid-1990s. According to government statistics, 0.58 percent of the population used the internet regularly in 1999.1 By the end of 2009, the figure had grown to 24 percent, or 20.1 million users.2 However, several barriers to access remain, including basic illiteracy, computer illiteracy, and high prices. Broadband internet, while widely available, remains prohibitively expensive for most of Egypt’s population, nearly a fifth of which lives on less than US$2 a day.3 There were only 1.1 million broadband subscribers in 2009,4 although the actual number of users is hard to estimate because it is not unusual for users to share a connection, often illegally. Internet cafes offering such connections are common, even in urban slums and small villages.
The number of mobile-telephone users has grown to 55.3 million, constituting a percent penetration rate.5 Later generation mobile phones are available in the country. In April 2009, the government allowed the use of the Global Positioning System (GPS) feature, having previously banned it for security reasons.
A total of 214 internet-service providers (ISP)s serve Egypt’s population of over million. The largest ISP is TE Data, the communications and internet arm of state-owned landline monopoly Telecom Egypt. TE Data owns about 70 percent of internet bandwidth Egyptian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, http://www.mcit.gov.eg, accessed July 3, 2010.
International Telecommunications Union (ITU), “ICT Statistics 2009—Internet,” http://www.itu.int/ITUD/ICTEYE/Indicators/Indicators.aspx#, accessed February 20, 2011.
World Bank, “Data—Indicators: Poverty Headcount Ratio at $2 a Day,” http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.2DAY, accessed September 13, 2010.
ITU, “ICT Statistics 2009—Internet” ITU, “ICT Statistics 2009—Mobile Cellular Subscriptions,” http://www.itu.int/ITUD/ICTEYE/Indicators/Indicators.aspx#, accessed February 20, 2011.
EGYPT FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net in Egypt. Three mobile-phone operators—Vodafone, Mobinil, and the Dubai-based Etisalat—serve Egyptian subscribers. All three offer broadband internet connections via USB modems. Mobile-phone services and ISPs are regulated by the National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (NTRA), pursuant to the Telecommunications Regulation Law. As of the end of 2010, the NTRA’s board was chaired by Minister of Communications and Information Technology Tarek Kamel, and included representatives from the presidency; the Ministries of Interior, Defense, Information, and Finance; the country’s domestic intelligence service; and the State Security Council.6 There were no reported incidents of ISPs being denied registration permits.
The video-sharing site YouTube; social-networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter; and various international blog-hosting services are freely available. Egypt is the leading Arab country in terms of Facebook use, with over 4.5 million users by the end of 2010.7 There are nine radio stations broadcasting online in Egypt.8 However, in March 2010, the NTRA banned access through USB modems to Skype, the voice over internet protocol (VoIP) application that allows users to make international phone calls via the internet. The service is still accessible through other types of internet connections.
LIMITS ON CONTENT The government’s sporadic efforts to remove websites that run against its interests and limit the spread of information through new technologies became first apparent in the run up to the November 2010 election. In the past, the authorities typically focused on intimidating users rather than actually removing content and blocking websites.9 In fact, in December 2007, an administrative court judge issued a decision rejecting a request by a fellow member of the judiciary to ban 51 Egyptian websites, including those of several human rights organizations. In his decision, the judge emphasized the importance of respecting freedom of expression, including on the internet.Nonetheless, as political temperatures started to rise in the fall of 2010, several individuals who called for political change and democratic reform saw their websites affected. In one example, the blog belonging to Amr Osama—which promoted an opposition presidential candidate—was closed by its Emirati hosting service in September 2010. Those who later attempted to visit the site were greeted with a message by the National Telecommunication Regulatory Agency, “About Us: Board Members,” http://www.tra.gov.eg/english/DPages_DPagesDetails.aspID=175&Menu=5, accessed July 10, 2010.
CheckFacebook.com, “Egypt,” http://www.checkfacebook.com/, accessed December 28, 2010.
Naayem Saad Zaghloul, Electronic Mass Communication in Egypt: Reality and Challenges (Cairo: Egyptian Cabinet, Information and Decision Support Center, February 2010), 38.
Rasha Abdulla, The Internet in the Arab World: Egypt and Beyond (New York: Peter Lang Inc., 2007).
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), “Court Rejects Request to Ban 51 Websites,” International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), January 2, 2008, http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/89371.
EGYPT FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net hosting service stating that the blog was removed due to a complaint by Gamal Mubarak, the president’s son.11 In another attempt to hamper the flow of independent news, in October, the NTRA issued a decision requiring that all group newsfeeds sent by short message service (SMS) had to be pre-approved by the regulator. The decision was a strong blow to independent civil society groups and media institutes who rely on mass messaging to disseminate news and information to their members; it was overturned by the State Council Administrative Court in November.
Islam as a religion; and torture. Media personnel know that such topics should be handled with particular care, if at all. However, online activists and bloggers have become increasingly outspoken and routinely disregard most of these taboos. Internet users can freely access local and international political websites as well as the sites of human rights organizations, including some that harshly criticize the government and the political system.13 In 2009, an administrative court ordered a ban on pornographic websites in Egypt, but the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology spoke against the court order, saying it is practically impossible as a technical matter to enforce an effective ban on pornography. The ban was never implemented.