US: political expression in Egypt threatened

The United States said on Monday that it was "deeply concerned by the growing trend of efforts to punish and deter political expression in Egypt,” accusing Cairo of violating its international obligations.

"Numerous individuals, including journalists, bloggers and activists have been detained, and some are being charged and put on trial for allegedly defaming government figures," US State Department spokesperson Patrick Ventrell said in his daily press briefing on Monday.

Such charges represent a step backwards in the country’s transition to democracy, he said. "We call on the Government of Egypt to publicly speak out against this trend and to protect the essential freedoms of expression and assembly as it has publicly committed to do."

This month, Prosecutor General Talaat Ibrahim ordered that Magdi el-Gallad, editor-in-chief of the privately-owned El-Watan newspaper, be tried on charges of "publishing false news that aims to disturb public peace and stir panic," after El-Watan published a list of politicians and public figures who it alleged Islamist militants arrested last October had been planning to assassinate.

El Gilad is the latest to be accused in a series of cases in which several journalists and talk show hosts have been interrogated or charged with defamation. In most cases, individuals, rather than the regime itself, filed the lawsuits. These cases have raised concerns among activists over the future of political freedoms in post-revolution Egypt.

This month, the France-based Reporters Without Borders added the Muslim Brotherhood to their list of “Predators of Freedom of Information,” accusing the group's members and supporters of attacking journalists.