New York, February 13, 2012--Egyptian authorities should immediately release detained Australian journalist Austin Mackell, his translator, and an American student traveling with them, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Mackell, a freelancer who writes his own blog and has contributed to the U.K.'s Guardian, the Australian daily Canberra Times, Moscow-based broadcaster Russia Today, and other outlets, was arrested Saturday evening in the Nile Delta factory district of Mahalla, according to news reports. He was arrested along with his Egyptian translator, Aliya Alwi, and a U.S. student, Derek Ludovici, the same reports said. Mackell had travelled to Mahalla to cover the nationwide strike Saturday marking the first anniversary of former President Hosni Mubarak's ouster. Ludovici's role wasn't clear.
The trio was transferred to a military intelligence branch and was accused of bribing residents to protest and inciting them to vandalism, according to posts on Alwi's Twitter account during her detention. The tweets said witnesses had been produced against the trio, and that one of the witnesses was eight years old. CPJ could not determine whether the three have been formally charged.
"These arrests are part of a disturbing pattern of attacks and harassment of media covering protests over the past few weeks," said Robert Mahoney, CPJ deputy director. "The Egyptian authorities must free Austin Mackell and his colleagues immediately and stop trying to prevent news coverage by rounding up reporters on patently trumped up charges."
Mackell's father told Australian newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald that the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been trying to gain access to the journalist.
The arrests come amid accusations by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces of foreign meddling in Egyptian affairs, according to news reports.
Over the past week, CPJ has documented over a dozen attacks against journalists in Cairo and Suez. In December and November alone, CPJ documented 50 anti-press attacks during clashes between protestors and security forces in Egypt.