Saturday, December 10, 2016

As Egypt Arrests Azza Soliman, Ban Breaks Rules For Sisi Media, Absent

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 7 -- As the Egyptian government stepped up its crackdown on the media, expelling Liliane Daoud after arresting Yahia Galash and now Azza Soliman, the Sisi-supporting media stayed quiet or participated. 
The silence is deafening from Akhbar al Yom to which UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his communications chief Cristina Gallach are ghoulishly giving the long time UN work space of critical Inner City Press. Swiss Radio here.
The UN of Gallach and Ban is giving Inner City Press' long time office to this Egyptian state media, whose correspondent Sanaa Youssef rarely even comes to the UN and never asks questions. 
  Despite Ban's record, on December 7 his deputy spokesman Farhan Haq had this (faux) if-asked, from the UN transcript:
"I'd been asked earlier today by one of your colleagues about an arrest in Egypt, and I do have something to say in response to that question, which is this: the Secretary-General is concerned by the reported arrest of Ms. Azza Soliman, a prominent human rights lawyer and founder of the Centre for Egyptian Women Legal Aid, in Cairo this morning.  This is the latest manifestation of the progressive closing of space for the public exchange of views in Egypt."
  Even on this day of Egypt news, Akhbar al Yom and Sanaa Youssef asked no questions at all. That's the point - that's what ban and Gallach want to reward and promote. Sanaa Youssef does not comply with the UN's stated rules; her only qualification is being a past president of the UN Correspondents Association, which is selling access to Ban on December 16 for $1,2000. We'll have more on this.
  When Inner City Press asked Ban's deputy spokesman Haq on November 30 about Egypt's new anti-NGO law, Haq had a canned Ban statement ready. From the UN transcript:
Inner City Press: I wanted to ask, assuming that the UN has seen the… the news of this new NGO law in Egypt, which would make it, among other things, a crime punishable by jail to conduct a survey or to publish the results of any survey without the government's approval.  There are other elements to it, and so I'm wondering, given the things the Secretary-General has said about civil society, what does he think of this law that's now been finally approved by the Egyptian Parliament?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary-General reiterates the important role civil society and NGOs play in helping countries meet both developmental and civic objectives.  He's, therefore, concerned about the possible effects of the new law on NGOs reportedly now approved by the Egyptian Parliament.

He recalls that the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association considered that the law appeared to be drafted to curtail civil society's ability to operate and to stifle their ability to freely express themselves.

The Secretary-General urges the authorities to ensure that civil society can work without undue restrictions and exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms for the benefit of all Egyptian society.
   Oh. Now from CPJ, which has done nothing on censorship in and by the UN and continuing targeted restrictions on the Press from covering the UN General Assembly, this, on the:
"conviction of three leaders of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate today on charges of harboring a fugitive. A Cairo court sentenced Yehia Qallash, the chairman of the syndicate, and board members Khaled al-Balshy and Gamal Abdel Rahim to two years in prison, according to news reports. The court set bail of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (US$628) each pending appeal.
"The authorities are punishing Yehia Qallash, Khaled al-Balshy, and Gamal Abdel Rahim, who represent the most influential voice for press freedom in Egypt, for working to protect journalists from harassment, threats, and arrests," CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington, D.C. "We call on Egyptian authorities to let the Journalists Syndicate and all members of the press do their jobs without fear of reprisal."
The charges were brought by Prosecutor General Nabil Sadek in May 2016, weeks after police raided Syndicate headquarters in downtown Cairo and arrested two journalists who were inside. The three leaders still face charges of spreading false news about the raid.
What does Egyptian state media Akhbar el Yom say? And while CPJ veers from its stated focus on only the most extreme threats to free press, will its self-serving silence on the UN's lack of due process rules and protection for investigative, independent media continue?  What about this - the seizure by the UN of Inner City Press' mailbox and whistleblower's correspondence?
Outgoing, Press-UNfriendly UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is giving the long time office of Inner City Press to this Egyptian state media whose Sanaa Youssef rarely comes to the UN and never asks questions. The UN knows this - but this is what Ban Ki-moon and his Under Secretary General Cristina Gallach want to reward and encourage. It's worse - see this October 11 story,
including current UNCA boss Giampaolo Pioli engaging in hate speech, abetted by (some in) Ban's UN. This must change.
On November 8, as even from UN headquarters Inner City Press covered the IMF's austerity plans for Egypt, Akhbar al Yom's Sanaa Youssef was nowhere to be seen. This has remained true during the Security Council's meetings on Myanmar and Syria and through November 19 and counting. This is a scam and must end.
Ban's UN is violating its own stated rules, for Sanaa Youssef a former president of UNCA, formally the UN Correspondents Association now the UN's Censorship Alliance. CPJ was informed of this, and of the ouster and eviction of the Press from the UN as it covered the UN corruption and nepotism story - including Ban Ki-moon giving his own son in law Siddharth Chatterjee the top UN job in Kenya without recusal - and has done... nothing.
The Journalists Against Torture Observatory (JATO)  issued its third quarterly report on violations committed against reporters and photojournalists in Egypt. Out of a total 106 attacks on journalists that were traced, JATO said it documented 100 cases through its fieldwork team. Out of those, 59 violations took place in July, 18 in August, and 23 in September.

Journalists face charges from the Egyptian state directly related to their profession such as publishing false news, incitement, libel, and defamation. They include recently detained Hamdy Al-Zaeem, Mohamed Hassan, and Osama El-Beshbeshy. 
In Egypt fellow journalist Amr Badr, and human rights lawyer Malek Adly attended Al-Saqa's session with head of the Press Syndicate's Freedom Committee and lawyer Tarek Al-Awady.
  By contrast, among the silent even in New York is Akhbar El Yom, the publication to whose rarely-present correspondent Sanaa Youssef, who never asks the UN any questions, the UN of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is giving the long time shared office space of Inner City Press, from which Ban's Under Secretary General for Public Information Cristina Gallach  evicted Inner City Press on April 14 (see New York Times of May 14, here).
"The first half of 2016 was the worst in terms of freedom of expression, press, and media under the rule of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, according to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression’s (AFTE) quarterly report issued this week. AFTE referred to the incident in May when security forces stormed the Press Syndicate headquarters to arrest two journalists, as well as the trial of three syndicate leaders including the head of the syndicate Yehia Qalash."

Tellingly, it was bragged in Egypt that Ban Ki-moon did NOT call for any investigation of “the killing of hundreds during the  Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in dispersal. 'The United Nations in Egypt denies the issuance of any statements today or yesterday regarding Egyptian affairs by the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, as was claimed in the media,' a statement read. 
  To this has Ban Ki-moon's UN descended: denying that it ever called for an investigation, while evicting the investigative Press to give its office to Egypt state media.

Gamal Eid was set  to appear in a Cairo criminal court on August 15, along with investigative journalist / human rights activist Hossam Bahgat and others. CPJ, the Committee to "Protect Journalists," is rightly alerting on this - while remaining silent as the UN Secretariat evicts and restricts the investigative Press and gives its longtime work space to an Egyptian state media. Now CPJ and its director are slated continue their UN Censorship partnership on September 16, when they could instead appear in the UN Press Briefing Room, open (at least usually) to all. Hypocrisy?

Sanaa Youssef and Akhbar El Yom don't even arguably comply with the UN's stated rules: she never came to the UN three days a week in recent years, is only being used to censor Inner City Press. In the week of August 8, Ban's Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit appeared to service Akhbar al Youm's Sanaa Youssef, being given the Press office as a former head of the Ban-friendly UN Correspondents Association who has yet to ask any question of the UN. 
Still no questions asked; in November not seen, nothing. A fraud.
From August 22 to September 6 she was entirely absent; upon brief return she asked no question, as Inner City Press asked about Yemen and Ban naming his own son in law to the top UN job in Kenya. On September 7 as Inner City Press pursued this and Ban's spokesman called it "ridiculous accusations" before walking off, she was nowhere to be seen.

On August 11, after Ban's spokesman claimed he was "bullied" in order to evade a Ban corruption question, a duoof MALU's supervisors cruised through the press floor. They are on notice that Akhbar Al Youm never comes, and of much else. Watch this site. On August 15, as Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman about failures in Western Sahara, Yemen and Burundi, and corruption, Sanaa Youssef and Akbhar El Yom were nowhere to be found. That's now Ban likes it; that what he rewards while evicting the investigative Press.
On July 29 when Egypt abstained on a resolution to send UN Police to Burundi, Sanaa Youssef of Akhbar Al Youm  was nowhere to be seen; nor on August 12 when Egypt abtained on South Sudan, explanation of abstention here, published by Inner City Press. Meanwhile UNCA, her former presidency of which years ago appears to be the only basis for awarding her an office, put this out, forwarded by Inner City Press by a disgusted UNCA member:
“The UNCA Office will be closed for holiday from tomorrow, Thursday, July 28th to Tuesday, August 16th, 2016. All activities will be suspended during that period... Giampaolo Pioli, UNCA President”
  Does “activities being suspended” mean they won't during that time at least be trying to get investigative journalists thrown out of the UN? Former UNCA president Sanaa Youssef was never in the UN even before this holiday. We'll have more on this.
On June 28, as Inner City Press confined ot minder asked questions of the foreign ministers of Sweden, Kazakhstan and Italy, Akhbar Elyom's correspondent, a former UN Correspondents Association president, wasn't even in the building, having been awarded the space in contravention of the UN's supposed rules, simply to keep Inner City Press out of it. This was raised at the UN Human Rights Council on June 27, here.
Now, this: "The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the expulsion of TV host by authorities in Egypt late on Monday.... 'It is outrageous that Liliane Daoud was seized from her home and forced to leave the country without warning," Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington. "Where independent journalists are concerned, Egypt has given up even the pretense to rule of law.'" 
But CPJ and Mansour have not said anything about the UN's eviction of Inner City Press to put Akhbar Elyom in. We'll have more on this.
On May 31 Inner City Press - not Akhbar Elyom - asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric about the crackdown in Egypt. Video hereUN Transcript here: 
Inner City Press: in Egypt.  I’m waiting for a statement there…  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  They apply across the board.  We, obviously, have seen the reports of new charges being brought against the Union of Journalists in Egypt.  We remain concerned at the situation.  We’re following it closely.  
 If Team Ban saw the crackdown and was so concerned, why did it issue no statement until asked by Inner City Press? Why is it giving Inner City Press' long time UN office to Egyptian state media Akhbar Elyom, whose rarely seen correspondent Sanaa Youssef, last seen in 2002, a former President of the UN Correspondents Association, asks no questions at all?  Perhaps the question answers itself. We'll have more on this. 
 This while Ban Ki-moon speaks about "authoritarian impulses" and ostensibly for press freedom, while campaigning in South Korea. (See article in Korean here,robo-translation here.) 
Meanwhile the Committee to Protect Journalists has said
“Authorities are pursuing Yehia Qallash, Khaled al-Balshy, and Gamal Abdel Rahim for trying to defend the Egyptian media against a thin-skinned and brutal security apparatus," CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said. "We call on Egyptian prosecutors to drop these charges immediately and stop harassing journalists."
  But CPJ has yet to speak on Ban's UN evicting the investigative press, much less on Ban then giving Inner City Press' UN shared office to Egyptian state media Akhbar Elyom. We'll have more on this.
Amnesty International’s interim Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme Magdalena Mughrabi said:

"The arrest of key media figures at the Press Syndicate signals a dangerous escalation of the Egyptian authorities’ draconian clampdown on freedom of expression and demonstrates the extreme measures the authorities are prepared to take in order to tighten their iron grip on power.

“By prosecuting senior members of the Press Syndicate the authorities are clearly attempting to punish them for speaking out against the government and to send a strong message to intimidate all journalists into silence. The authorities must immediately order their release and drop the charges against them.” bo-translation here.)
"For ten years as Inner City Press covered the UN in ever greater detail, showing Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's Herve Ladsous' inept overseeing and cover up of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepersdalliance with genocide in Sri Lanka and prospectively Burundi, impunity for cholera deaths in Haiti and until now for UN lead poisoning in Kosovo and cravenly pro-Saudi position on Yemen amid the airstrikes, it was never thrown out of the UN. 
Now it has been, and even as groups like the Government Accountability Project tell Ban to reverse the eviction and give Inner City Press back its long time office and Resident Correspondent pass, Ban's UN tellingly move to award Inner City Press' office to Egypt state media Al-Akhbar / Akhbar Elyoum. 
Akhbar Elyom has been used to finger for imprisonment non-state journalists in Egypt. For example, in July 2015 Aboubakr Khallaf, the founder and head of the independent Electronic Media Syndicate (EMS), “was arrested after a news article was published by the government-owned daily Akhbar Elyoum.” (Article in Arabic here.) 
According to CPJ, Khallaf's EMS “trains and supports journalists who work online in Egypt. The syndicate operates independently from the state-recognized Egyptian Journalists Syndicate... 
The local press freedom group Journalists Against Torture and the local Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) said Khallaf was also accused of 'taking pictures and displaying artistic works without a license,' among other allegations. A 1998 executive order states that individuals conducting audio and audiovisual work must have a license from the Ministry of Culture. According to AFTE, the accusation is in connection with Khallaf photographing the funeral of Hisham Barakat, Egypt's prosecutor general who was assassinated late last month."
There are many echoes of this in Ban's UN: as simply one example Ban's Under Secretary General for Public Information Cristina Gallach telling Inner City Press it takes photographs of things that "are not newsworthy." There are more, and more examples of Akbar Elyom. 
Only when it questioned Ban's and its PR official Cristina Gallach's roles in the John Ashe, Ng Lap Seng and Francis Lorenzo UN bribery scandal did Gallach order Inner City Press ousted then evicted, and now try to give its office to an Egyptian media which rarely or never asked questions. Ban Ki-moon claimed “That is not my decision,” but that is not true.
  The New York Times on May 14 covered the story. But they did not in their long process report, because it happened at the end, that Ban Ki-moon and Gallach are moving to give Inner City Press' long time office to Egyptian state media, Al Akhbar / Akhbar El-Yom / Akher Saa, to a correspondent Sanaa Youssef who most even on the UN press floor have never seen. 
Her "in" seems to be that she was a previous president of the UN Correspondents Association, now become the UN's Censorship Alliance. As one respected usual UN interlocutor put it, "it would be a hugely negative symbolic step for Egyptian state media to replace Inner City Press in the UN." 
 A longtime UN correspondent who spotted her moving in on Inner City Press' office noted she had not been seen before; the name was confirmed by UN Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit, which refused to provide the waiting list or describe the rationale. 
But this is Ban's and Gallach's UN (click here for a Spanish take on Gallach's tenure.) We are beginning to report this now because it has proven nearly impossible to reach Al Akhbar / Akhbar Al Yom - the telephone numbers listed online are disconnected, or private homes; the correspondent at UNCA address has been unresponsive.The absurdity of this has been directly raised to Ban Ki-moon, his Deputy and Chief of Staff with enough time to stop it. We'll see.