Ambassador says expelled journalist can resume work

New York, February 20, 2004—Egyptian Ambassador to the United States Nabil Fahmy told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) yesterday that a U.S. journalist who was expelled from Egypt in late January without explanation can return to the country and resume his work.

On January 29, at Cairo International Airport, Egyptian security authorities ordered Charles Levinson, a Cairo-based reporter who contributes to several newspapers, including The San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, the Beirut-based Daily Star, and the English-language Egyptian weekly Cairo Times, to leave the country. The order came shortly after Levinson returned to Cairo from the United States, where he had been on vacation. No reason for the action was given.

In a phone conversation with CPJ Senior Program Coordinator Joel Campagna late yesterday, Ambassador Fahmy said that Levinson’s expulsion was a “misunderstanding,” and that the matter had been “resolved.” The ambassador added that the journalist can return to Egypt and resume work immediately.

“We welcome Ambassador Fahmy’s clarification and assurance that our colleague can return to Egypt to resume his work,” said Campagna. “We look forward to him continuing his reporting.”

According to Levinson, Egyptian officials detained him on January 28 at airport passport control and transferred him to an interrogation room belonging to State Security Investigation (SSI), the security service’s investigative arm. He said he was briefly questioned about where he worked and what he was doing in Egypt and forced to remain in the room for several hours. After midnight, a police or military officer in uniform informed him he was being expelled from the country without explanation. Levinson said the officer was holding what looked like an official report, which the journalist asked to see, but was refused. Throughout his detention, Levinson was not allowed to make any phone calls.

Levinson, who was told he could purchase a plane ticket to leave the country immediately or wait in the SSI office until the plane on which he had arrived departed in a few days for the United States, left on a flight a few hours later.

Levinson believes that two articles may have triggered his expulsion. On November 20 and 21, 2003, The Boston Globe and The San Francisco Chronicle, respectively, published similar articles written by Levinson describing the security services’ alleged torture of political detainees in Egypt. The day the Globe article ran, Levinson left the country to go on assignment to Turkey. Upon his return to Egypt on November 27, 2003, the SSI at the Cairo International Airport detained and questioned him about where he lived and what he did in Egypt for nearly four hours before releasing him. Following that incident, he continued to work in Egypt unfettered until his January expulsion.