Egypt’s cabinet is proposing to jail reporters who report nongovernment statistics about the number of people killed in terrorist attacks, the Guardian in the U.K. reported Sunday. Releasing reports about death tolls that don’t echo official government stats could be grounds for arrest under a new measure sent to the president for his approval.
Egyptian officials described as “false news” the publication of death tolls associated with terrorist attacks that don’t jibe with government accounts, and those who publish them may face two years in prison. The proposed law must be OK’d by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who is expected to sign it quickly, according to Agence France-Presse.
The crackdown -- especially on foreign media -- comes after attacks by the Islamic State group on a remote Egyptian town last week. Focused on five different security checkpoints in northern Sinai, they killed 17 members of Egyptian security forces, CNN reported. The attacks were characterized by foreign media outlets as a stark demonstration of the growing scope of Islamic State group influence across North Africa.
According to an Egyptian official who supports the proposed law, media reports of the attacks varied greatly in the aftermath. While some echoed the initial report of 17 being killed, others published that as many as 100 had been killed. Justice Minister Ahmed al-Zind told AFP that such false reports affected the “morale” of the nation.
“There was no choice but to impose some standards,” Zind said. “The government has the duty to defend citizens from wrong information.” He added: “I hope no one interprets this as a restriction on media freedoms. It’s just about numbers [in death tolls].”
But there was quick criticism for the move by the Egyptians. Gamal Eid, the executive director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, told the Guardian the proposed law recalls measures promulgated in Nazi Germany.
“We are faced with an article that pushes the media towards [Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph] Goebbels’ media -- the media of one opinion and one narrative,” he said. “It is against the freedom of press, especially press that is critical and professional.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists cited Egypt last week for the imprisonment of journalists, saying the nation has reached an “all-time high” in detentions. Egypt is holding at least 18 journalists behind bars, according to CPJ.
There is a growing clash between Egypt’s government and the country's public as the official crackdown continues in the wake of years of political tumult in the nation. Thousands of demonstrators have been arrested or killed during the unrest. The murder of Egypt’s top prosecutor Hisham Barakat by a car bomb last week has prompted another round of promises from officials to impose stricter laws against dissidents. Barakat was a prime target for opponents of the government accused of detaining thousands of critics.