Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has signed off on a law tightening controls over the internet in the country, the official gazette said on Saturday.

The legislation on “cybercrime” allows authorities, through a judge, to order the blocking of websites that “constitute a threat” to Egypt’s national security or economy.

Those who administer or visit such websites, intentionally or “in error without a valid reason”, can now face jail time and fines. Such decisions can be appealed.

The law is one of a series of measures that rights groups complain are aimed at curbing freedom of expression online, with the internet one of the last forums for public debate over Sisi’s rule.

Egyptian lawmakers last month approved another bill that grants the state’s Supreme Council for Media Regulations the right to monitor social media users.

Under that legislation, which Sisi has yet to approve, people whose social media accounts have more than 5 000 followers could be placed under supervision.

The council would be authorised to suspend or block any personal account which “publishes or broadcasts fake news or anything (information) inciting violating the law, violence or hatred”.

The authorities have insisted that such measures are needed to help tackle instability and terrorism in the country.

But domestic and international rights activists regularly accuse the government of seeking to crush dissent by arresting activists and bloggers and blocking news sites.

More than 500 websites have already been blocked in Egypt prior to the new law, according to the Cairo-based Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression.

Egypt is currently placed 161 out of 180 countries in the press freedom rankings of global media rights organisation Reporters Without Borders.

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