The Egyptian parliament passed a law giving the state powers to block social media accounts and penalise journalists publishing fake news.
Under the law social media accounts and blogs with more than 5,000 followers on sites such as Twitter and Facebook will be treated as media outlets, making them subject to prosecution for publishing false news or incitement to break the law.
The Supreme Council for the Administration of the Media, headed by an official appointed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, will supervise the law and take action against violations.
The bill prohibits the establishment of websites without obtaining a license from the Supreme Council and allows it to suspend or block existing websites, or impose fines on editors.
The law, which takes effect after ratification by Sisi, states journalists can only film in places not prohibited, but does not explain further.
Supporters of Sisi say the law is intended to safeguard freedom of expression and was approved after consultations with judicial experts and journalists.
Critics say it will give legal basis to measures government has taken to crack down on dissent and extend control over social media.
Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa programme co-ordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the vague wording of the law allows authorities to interpret violations and control media.
“That power of interpretation has been a constant powerful legal and executive tool used to justify excessive aggressive and exceptional measures to go after journalists,” he told Reuters.
Hundreds of news sites and blogs were blocked in recent months and around a dozen people were arrested this year and charged with publishing false news, many of them journalists or prominent government critics.