Egypt law allows scrutiny of social media users

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attending a news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, on Oct 24, 2017.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attending a news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, on Oct 24, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

CAIRO • Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has ratified a law granting the authorities the right to monitor social media users in the country as part of tightening Internet controls, the official gazette said.

Approved by Parliament in July, the state's Supreme Council for Media Regulations will have the power to place people with more than 5,000 followers - on social media or with a personal blog or website - under supervision.

The council will be authorised to suspend or block any personal account which "publishes or broadcasts fake news or anything (information) inciting violating the law, violence or hatred".

The new law is one of a series of measures that rights groups say are aimed at curbing freedom of expression online, with the Internet one of the last forums for public debate over Mr Sisi's rule.

Last month, the President signed off on another piece of legislation allowing the authorities, through a judge, to order the blocking of websites that "constitute a threat" to Egypt's national security or economy.

Those who administer or visit such websites, intentionally or "in error without a valid reason", can now face jail time and fines.

The authorities have insisted that such measures are needed to help tackle instability and terrorism in the country. But domestic and international rights activists regularly accuse the government of seeking to crush dissent by arresting critics and bloggers and blocking news sites.

More than 500 websites have already been blocked in Egypt prior to the new law, according to the Cairo-based Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression.

Former military chief Sisi was elected leader in 2014, the year after he led the ouster of then President Mohamed Mursi amid mass protests against the Islamist's rule.

Mr Sisi in March won a second term with 97 per cent at a vote in which he faced only one opponent.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2018, with the headline 'Egypt law allows scrutiny of social media users'. Print Edition | Subscribe