Still no word, five years after editor disappeared

New York, August 11, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is dismayed by the failure of the Egyptian authorities to shed light on the disappearance of a prominent journalist, five years ago today, in one of the most secure districts in Cairo.

Reda Helal, a senior editor at Egypt’s leading state-owned daily Al-Ahram, mysteriously vanished on August 11, 2003, on his way home from work in a heavily guarded area in the center of the Egyptian capital. Helal, who was then 45, lived in an area in downtown Cairo with important state buildings and diplomatic missions, including the Egyptian parliament and both the British and U.S. embassies.

To date, the Egyptian government has not offered any information it may have regarding this chilling disappearance. CPJ has repeatedly requested to meet with officials from the Interior and Information ministries and also with Al-Ahram’s chief editor, Osama Saraya. Those requests, placed respectively through the Egyptian Embassy in Washington and Egypt State Information Service in Cairo, have all been ignored.

“We are outraged by this long and cruel silence about the disappearance of our colleague Reda Helal,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the Egyptian government to finally disclose the findings of its investigation into this crime. We find it hard to believe that, after five years, the country’s ubiquitous security branches have no significant information about our colleague’s fate.”

Helal’s disappearance has for years also spurred a strange silence in the usually vocal Egyptian media, including at his own newspaper, where he had been a leading writer. Egyptian journalists told CPJ in 2007 that this perplexing silence might be explained by his “unpopular pro-American views, his support of relations with Israel, and by a degree of fear.” CPJ’s report on the disappearance also found that Helal was “a career pro-government journalist.”

The failure of the Egyptian authorities to shed light on Helal’s disappearance, coupled with the unceasing police and judicial harassment of many critical journalists over the past few years, has prompted self-censorship and led to the deterioration of press freedom in Egypt. CPJ named Egypt one of the top 10 backsliders in press freedom in the world last year.

Read the special report on Reda Helal: The Forgotten Man.

See the Audio Slide Show on the background of the special report.