Egypt detains reporter covering protests

New York, September 26, 2008―The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by the ongoing detention of a reporter for the independent daily Al-Dustour.

Hossam Al Wakeel, 20, was arrested on Wednesday while covering protests that erupted after “the arbitrary closure” of the Al Jazeera School in the Al Ajami district in Alexandria, his lawyer, Khalaf Bayyoumi, told CPJ. His camera was also confiscated. (The school is unrelated to the media outlet.)

Al Wakeel was arrested with protesters and accused of “assaulting and defaming a law-enforcement officer,” “breaking tree branches,” and “blocking street traffic.” He could be sentenced to up to three years in prison, said his lawyer, who plans to appeal what he says is a politically motivated decision to detain Al Wakeel for 15 days.

“We are concerned by the arrest of Hossam Al Wakeel and call on Egyptian authorities to release him while they conduct an independent investigation,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Journalists have a right to cover street protests.”

Executive Editor Ibrahim Mansour claimed that the journalist was singled out: “The state security police have been harassing him and urging him to stop writing for our daily.” Mansour told CPJ that the purpose of Al Wakeel’s detention is to “again warn Al-Dustour of the consequences of continuing on the road to independent journalism.”

The paper has been subject to a series of lawsuits in the past couple of years. On Sunday, a Cairo appeal court is due to issue its ruling in the case against Ibrahim Eissa, editor-in-chief of Al-Dustour, for “publishing false information and rumors” about President Hosni Mubarak’s health. Eissa, who has been dogged for several years by criminal prosecutions, was charged under the penal code in September 2007 with publishing reports about Mubarak’s health that were “liable to disturb public security and damage public interest.” The case was first hastily submitted to the Emergency State Security Court, an exceptional tribunal that does not allow for appeals and rarely issues acquittals. But it was examined later by a misdemeanor court following a local and international outcry.

In May 2007, CPJ designated Egypt one of the worst backsliders on press freedom, citing an increase in the number of legal and physical attacks on the press.