New York, April 27, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the arrest of Al-Jazeera TV’s Cairo bureau chief, and the separate detention of three print journalists, by Egypt’s state security prosecutor.
Hussein Abdel Ghani, head of the Qatar-based satellite channel in Egypt, was arrested yesterday on charges of propagating false news while covering the aftermath of Monday’s bomb attacks in the Red Sea resort of Dahab, which killed at least 18 people. He was released late Thursday by the state security prosecutor in Cairo on bail of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (US$1700), human rights lawyers told CPJ.
Three plainclothes state security officers arrested Ghani at his hotel in Dahab, Al-Jazeera reported. Ghani told Al-Jazeera he was “kidnapped in an illegal way,” and that the officers refused to show him their badges and grabbed his mobile phone, preventing him from contacting his office or family. They took him to Cairo where he spent the night in custody.
Egyptian authorities detained Ghani after he reported an attack by unidentified assailants Wednesday on police in the town of Belbeis, northeast of Cairo. The Interior Ministry denied any attack took place. Authorities accused Ghani of spreading chaos, according to Al-Jazeera, which carried the Interior Ministry’s denial.
“Our colleague Hussein Abdel Ghani was reporting in good faith on breaking news of obvious relevance to the people of Egypt,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Criminalizing these kinds of actions is a fundamental threat to the exercise of journalism in Egypt. We call for authorities to drop this prosecution immediately.”
In a separate incident, state security police arrested two newspaper journalists in Cairo late Wednesday. They were covering demonstrations in support of two judges appearing before a disciplinary committee for calling parliamentary elections in November and December last year fraudulent. Saher al Gad of Al-Geel , and Ibrahim Sahari of Al-Alam Al-Youm, were accused of “disturbing public order,” Ibrahim Mansour, a board member of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate (EJS), told CPJ. The state prosecutor decided today to extend their detention for 15 days, the human rights lawyers said.
Another EJS board member, Mohamed Abdel Kaddous, a prominent columnist and press freedom activist, was arrested Thursday morning in front of the ESJ offices during further demonstrations in support of the judges. Local journalists told CPJ that large numbers of police blocked access to the EJS offices and those of the neighboring Lawyers Syndicate and the Judges Club. Kaddous was released late on Thursday.
The Judges Club has been campaigning to obtain full financial and administrative independence from the Ministry of Justice. The confrontation began last year, when the judges tried to win independence by threatening to refuse to supervise presidential and parliamentary elections.
On Wednesday, Al-Jazeera broadcast a political show critical of the government’s treatment of the two judges, and gave airtime to reformist judges. Al-Jazeera has often angered Egyptian authorities. The channel was prevented last year from covering one of the meetings of the Judges Club and its journalists and crewmembers were arbitrarily detained for several hours.