Committee to Protect Journalists [CJP] released a report on Thursday that says Egypt is holding the highest number of journalists behind bars using the pretext of national security to crack down on press freedoms since record keeping began..
CJP, which began reporting in Egypt in 1990, noted that currently Egypt has the highest number of journalists being held in jail for reasons related to their reporting, with 18 recorded on June 1.
"The threat of imprisonment in Egypt is part of an atmosphere in which authorities pressure media outlets to censor critical voices and issue gag orders on sensitive topics," the CPJ said in a report published on Thursday.
According to Khaled al-Balshy, the head of the freedoms committee of Egypt's press syndicate, the number of journalists imprisoned is as high as 30.
"We are in the worst climate for journalism in Egypt's history," he told Reuters.
Reuters could not independently confirm the number in detention in Egypt.
Most imprisoned journalists are accused by the Egyptian government of belonging to or being affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which Cairo counts as a “terrorist group,” ever since the July 2013 ouster of Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi, who belonged to the same group.
Egyptian authorities accuse the Brotherhood of posing a serious threat to national security, an accusation that the group consistently denies, reassuring of their commitment to peaceful activism.
"These numbers are not accurate and this report is not objective," a government source told Reuters, explaining that the journalists behind bars are facing criminal charges, and their detainment is not politicised.
Six journalists were sentenced to life in prison and several others are being held in pretrial detention without a set date for a court hearing, the CPJ reported.
"The arrests of journalists in Egypt are often violent and involve beatings, abuse, and raids of their homes and confiscation of their property," the CPJ said.
"Their prison cells are often unclean and overcrowded. In letters from prison, some journalists wrote that they often do not see sunlight for weeks; others described the torture of prisoners, including the use of electric shocks."
The government source denied all allegations of torture.
"Anyone who is arrested is taken in after a warrant issued by the public prosecution which, alongside the courts, oversees all detention facilities. Anyone who claims they are being mistreated can file a complaint with the prosecutor or the court and they will punish anyone guilty of torture."
CJP reports the crackdown on press freedom in Egypt leaves large critical regions underreported due to extreme security measures, whereas journalists are regularly denied entry to Sinai at military checkpoints.