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Cop27 wifi in Egypt blocks human rights and key news websites

Cop27 wifi in Egypt blocks human rights and key news websites

Attendees say they are unable to visit Human Rights Watch and other sites needed during climate talks

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A traffic policeman stands outside the main entrance of Cop27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt

Attendees at the Cop27 climate meeting have found that the conference internet connection blocks access to the global rights organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) as well as other key news websites needed for information during the talks.

HRW is due to lead a panel discussion at Cop27 along with Amnesty International, whose website is accessible on the conference wifi. The list of blocked sites also includes the blogging platform Medium, Egypt’s lone independent news outlet, Mada Masr, and the Qatari news outlet Al Jazeera.

Alexandria Villaseñor, an activist who leads the youth climate organisation Earth Uprising, tweeted: “There are so many blocked websites in Egypt at #Cop27, that it is noticeable and hard for us to work. We can’t use our @Earth_Uprising Medium site, because Medium is blocked. News agencies we refer to are blocked.” She added: “There is no climate action without truth and information.”

Observers and conference attendees fear the blockages at Cop27 are part of the Egyptian authorities’ efforts to separate vital climate negotiations from human rights issues, controlling what participants in the remote resort of Sharm el-Sheikh can see about Egypt’s decades-long record of cracking down on human rights and limiting their understanding of the country where the talks are taking place.

Egyptian telecoms providers temporarily lifted a ban on voice over internet protocol (VoIP) calls at Cop27, such as WhatsApp calling. Yet the authorities left in place a sophisticated and broad system for blocking websites deemed critical of the Egyptian authorities, including independent media and human rights organisations. Internet freedom groups including Qurium and Citizen Lab have documented how deep packet inspection technology provided by the Canadian company Sandvine permits the Egyptian authorities to block websites at will.

“Egyptian authorities have blocked access to about 700 websites, including independent news media and civil society groups. This severely restricts access to information that needs to be discussed, including environmental and human rights issues. Effective climate action requires more people voicing opinions, not fewer,” said the HRW environment director, Richard Pearshouse.

The number of blocked sites has mushroomed since Egypt began blocking independent news sites in 2022, beginning with Mada Masr and Al Jazeera, which the Egyptian authorities have targeted frequently since 2022 including a high-profile trial of Al Jazeera journalists.

By September 2022, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information and Mada Masr reported that 628 sites were blocked in Egypt, including 116 news sites, 15 dealing with human rights issues, 27 political criticism sites and 349 sites that allow users to download virtual private network services (VPNs), which are also banned in Egypt, and therefore prevent internet users from subverting the website ban.

Earlier this year, the block on news sites was expanded to include the independent news outlet Al-Manassa, prompting the free speech organisation Article 19 to say that “no government agency has so far announced its responsibility for these blocking decisions”.

HRW reported shortly before Cop27 began on the Egyptian state’s crackdown on environmental activism and independent research, driving many activists into exile and vastly curtailing what groups based inside the country are able to do, fearing arrests, closure of their organisation or worse.

“Another obstacle to independent research is the severe limitation on access to information,” it said. “Such massive censorship, coupled with systematic arrests and prosecutions of journalists, have severely restricted access to information and reporting around topics deemed prohibited by the government including environmental issues.”


  • Cop27
  • Egypt
  • Environmental activism
  • Internet
  • Censorship
  • Middle East and north Africa
  • Africa
  • news
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