A media gag order has been imposed Monday on news reports about Dabaa nuclear power station, according to the state-owned MENA news agency.
The gag order, which requires all reports about the Dabaa nuclear project to be approved by security authorities and the office of the Minister of Electricity, stirred controversy since details about the reasons or entities behind the decision has remained opaque.
The decision came after a meeting between President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Minister of Electricity Mohamed Shaker, who had just returned from Russia. According to a statement issued by the Egyptian presidency, Al-Sisi and Shaker discussed the latest developments regarding Al-Dabaa nuclear project.
Despite the order requiring permission from the Ministry of Electricity before publishing any reports related to Al-Dabaa, Electricity Ministry spokesperson Mohamed El–Yamani said the ministry did not issue any decision regarding the media gag.
El-Yamani refused to comment on the decision citing that the information is a matter of a national safety. He said the ministry will issue a statement on Thursday to clarify the decision and its consequences.
The gag order came after recent news reports have raised concerns and questions about the possibility of “Al-Dabaa becoming another Chernobyl”, with the attendant environmental disaster that follows a nuclear meltdown.
“Even if these reports were the reason behind the ban, they should have explained the project more to the people and raised their awareness about its consequences instead of imposing a media gag,” former adviser to Egypt’s Energy Minister Ibrahim Asiri told Daily News Egypt.
“No country around the world imposes media gag orders on nuclear project. This is a serious issue that can’t be accepted,” Asiri said.
He said media is essential for the success of the project. “There should be public acceptance for the nuclear plant and we need to raise people’s awareness regarding the plant and that’s why media reports are important. They can’t build a nuclear plant against the will of the people,” Asiri said.
Egypt has considered nuclear power since the 1980s but a series of projects have seen postponed over the course of that span. In 2009, former president Hosni Mubarak revived the project but his plans were halted when he was ousted during the 25 January Revolution in 2011.
Chairman of Reform and Development Party (RDP) Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat expressed his disapproval for the injunction and said that a lot of the details of the project are already known to the public and there’s no reason for such a decision.
“The media have been discussing information about the plant for many years now,” El-Sadat said.
Egypt is supposed to be in a new age that should be characterised by transparency and freedom of speech. He called on the government to clarify any updates regarding the Al-Dabaa project to put an end to the rumours surrounding it.
“We are looking forward to a new parliament where all topics will be discussed publicly and transparently and we do not want to be surprised with a media gag as a legal and constitutional tool to silence people,” Sadat said in a statement on Tuesday.
Opposition statements to the decision from governmental officials have made the situation more unclear. Minister of Legal Affairs and House of Representatives Magdy Al-Agati said the media gag order is probably a rumour. “Al-Dabaa project is not a judicial issue and there are no lawsuits against it to order a media gag,” Al-Agati said in a televised interview Monday.
A legal adviser to the press syndicate, lawyer Sayed Abu Zeid said the legitimacy of the decision is subject to the authorities’ abiding to the regulations related to it. “If there are no regulations or reasons behind the decision, then it is illegal,” Abu Zeid said.
According to Abu Zeid, a media gag contradicts the right to know principle. But the public prosecutor has the right to issue it in case the publicity will adversely affect the situation.
In November, Egypt and Russia signed an agreement to collaborate in the construction and operation of a nuclear power plant. The plant, which is expected to be constructed within 12 years, has four units each capable of producing 1,200 megawatts of electricity.