Watchdog slams Egypt curbs on press freedom, Bassem Youssef suspension

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The Reporters Without Borders watchdog on Tuesday condemned Egypt’s arrest and military trials of journalists and denounced the suspension of a popular television show by a controversial satirist.

“This new wave of threats to freedom of information in Egypt is especially disturbing,” the group said.

“Arbitrary arrests and hauling journalists before military courts constitute a danger to basic freedoms, as do prison terms, even if these are suspended.”

Egypt’s new military-installed authorities have put three Egyptian journalists on trial in military courts since the ouster of Islamist president Mohammad Mursi in July.

Mohamed Sabry, Hatem Abul Nour and Ahmed Abu Derra have all been tried by military courts, with Sabry and Derra sentenced to six-month suspended jail terms and Nour receiving a one-year prison term.

Sabry was convicted by a military court in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya for taking pictures in the town of Rafah on the border with the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

Nour was sentenced by a Cairo military court for impersonating an army officer over the phone, while Derra was convicted for reporting without authorization in a military zone of the Sinai by Ismailiya military tribunal.

“These practices must stop, and journalists still jailed because of their professional activities must be freed immediately and unconditionally,” Reporters Without Borders said.

The watchdog also denounced the suspension by the CBC channel of Bassem Youssef’s popular talk show Al-Bernameg (The Program).

Youssef, known as ‘Egypt’s Jon Stewart’ after modeling his show on the U.S. comedian’s popular satirical news program, had returned to CBC on October 26 after a four-month break.

In that broadcast Youssef mocked the country’s military which ousted Mursi, provoking fury and complaints from some viewers.

After that episode was broadcast his show was taken off the air on November 2, with CBC saying Youssef had violated its editorial policy.

“Complaints against comedian Bassem Youssef and the suspension of his show are especially regrettable,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“Freedom of satirically critical expression, especially in the context of a humor program, must have a place in a country that aspires to democracy.”

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