Egypt’s military presses media to censor critics

By David D. Kirkpatrick
New York Times / June 1, 2011

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CAIRO — Even the mildest criticism of the Egyptian military was too much for Mahmoud Saad, a television host on the newly founded, independent Tahrir television network.

“Any institution of the country that takes taxes from us should be open to question,’’ Hossam el-Hamalawy, a blogger, said in a telephone interview with Saad.

“No, no, no,’’ Saad interrupted. “I will not allow you to say those things on this network.

“Thank you, Mr. Hossam,’’ he declared, hanging up.

The next day Hamalawy and two liberal television journalists, but not Saad, were summoned to a military headquarters for questioning about their remarks.

The Egyptian military — facing criticism for torturing demonstrators and admitting that it forced some female detainees to undergo “virginity tests’’ — is pressing the Egyptian media to censor criticism of it and protect its image.

The military’s intervention concerns some human rights advocates who say that such efforts could make it harder for politicians to scrutinize the military and could possibly undermine attempts to bring it under civilian control or investigate charges of corruption.

In recent weeks military authorities have sent letters warning news organizations to review any discussion of the military before publication or broadcast. A military court has also sentenced a blogger to three years in prison for what it called persistent attacks, and it has charged an outspoken liberal presidential candidate with libeling a general and insulting the military.

Human rights advocates say accounts of military abuses have largely been underreported in the Egyptian media even as they have circulated widely on the Internet, in foreign media, and in reports of human rights groups.

This week an unidentified military official speaking on CNN acknowledged and defended a military decision that night to force some women detainees to undergo “virginity tests’’ by doctors.

“Testing’’ the women, the officer argued, was intended to ensure against subsequent charges of sexual abuse by soldiers. top stories on Twitter

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