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In Egypt, spreading false information about the coronavirus may be punishable by imprisonment

A volunteer wearing a mask sprays disinfectant on a man, a measure against the coronavirus pandemic, in the village of Shamma (Egypt), on April 1, 2020. (MOHAMED EL-SHAHED / AFP)

TheEgypt, a country of 100 million people, has just reached the milestone of 1,000 documented cases of coronavirus. Over the weekend, caregivers tested positive for the disease. This contamination in a hospital environment raises doubts about the tracing implemented by the authorities, but the Egyptian Ministry of Health still ensures to control the foci of contamination.

>> The latest information on the coronavirus pandemic in our live.

And beware of those who contradict this official speech. From now on, disseminating information deemed to be erroneous on the coronavirus can be directly punishable by two years in prison. The planned fine amounts to more than 17,000 euros. Two news sites were blocked, adding to the long list of 500 inaccessible websites in the country.

Because since a law of 2018, the fight against false news is a weapon of censorship in the hand of the regime. For Sabrina Bennoui, Middle East director at Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the regime is therefore seizing this new opportunity to silence dissenting voices. “Obviously, the coronavirus pandemic is only a pretext for the Egyptian authorities to tighten their control over the media and journalists”, she says. “And also, at the same time, to reaffirm the state's monopoly on information, that is to say that only official speech is admitted, and that any journalist who writes it question in one way or another can be penalized “, she adds. “It goes from a warning, to an outright eviction.”

A British journalist was recently expelled. The authorities accuse him of having questioned the official number of cases of coronavirus. Ruth Michaelson, correspondent for Guardian, had relayed a scientific study. According to its results published at the end of March, there were then around 6,000 infected people in the country. It was not the number of known cases, but rather an overall estimate including the undetected cases.

Whether this study is accurate or not, in an effort to stifle it, the government has only fueled suspicion. “The regime's law enforcement agencies are apparently out of step with the Ministry of Health”, says Timothy Kaldas, associate researcher at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. “For its part, the ministry is trying to be as transparent as possible in this crisis, he says, because it’s essential that the public have confidence in what the government is saying, to respect the measures and to adopt the right behaviors that will limit the spread of the virus. “

Regarding these measures, a curfew has been in force for ten days. During the day, restaurants, cafes, mosques and churches are closed. But for the time being, there is no total containment for the population.

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