Egypt is one of the African countries known to be hostile towards free speech. The Egyptian government has proposed a new law that will make high-profile Facebook and Twitter users subject to prosecution for publishing news deemed to be false.
The parliament passed a law on Monday that lets the state block social media users and penalise journalists for publishing fake news, according to Reuters.
Accounts and blogs with more than 5,000 followers on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter will reportedly be considered media outlets and subject to prosecution for publishing news judged to be fake or material deemed to be incitement to break the law.
Reuters further reports that the law will be supervised by Egypt’s Supreme Council for the Administration of the Media, which is led by an official appointed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The council will take action against violations.
The Consulate General of Egypt in New York didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The move will legalise the government’s widely criticized actions of censorship and retaliation. The Egyptian government blocked more than 400 websites last year, including those of news outlets and human rights organisations, according to data collected by Freedom House.
A number of Egyptian Facebook users were reportedly arrested for spreading fake news, and activists and journalists have also reportedly been arrested and thrown into prison.
The new law will also prohibit the establishment of websites without a license from the Supreme Council and will let the council suspend or block websites, or fine the editors, reported Reuters. It will also restrict journalists to filming only in government permitted areas.
The law is set to take effect after the president ratifies it.
“Right when we think the Egyptian government can’t make a greater mockery of justice, they find a way,” said Sherif Mansour, the Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Committee to Protect Journalists, during a phone interview. He said that this new law is made to justify the detention of journalists.
Mansour also said that CPJ counted 11 journalists still detained in Egypt this year based on charges of spreading false news. 20 were detained last year, though several have been released.
“These journalists didn’t commit any crimes,” he said.
In regard to whether the law will affect social media platforms, Twitter declined to comment. Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.