Magdi Hilali among detained. (MBC)
Magdi Hilali among detained. (MBC)

More journalists held in Libya; blogger jailed in Egypt

New York, April 11, 2011–Continuing a weeks-long pattern of seizing journalists covering the Libyan conflict, the government of Muammar Qaddafi is detaining two more television journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. And in Egypt, in a serious setback for press freedom under the transitional government, a court has sentenced a blogger to a three-year prison term for “insulting the military.” 

In Libya, cameramen Magdi Hilali and Mohamad al-Shuwayhadi of the privately owned Middle East Broadcasting (MBC) were being held today after being seized on April 6 in the north-central city of Brega, MBC news director Ahmad Gurashi told CPJ in an email. A third MBC journalist, reporter Hassan Zaituni, was also detained but was released on Friday, MBC said. The MBC crew’s driver, a Libyan identified only as Yahya, was detained at the same time but was separated from the three journalists. His condition and whereabouts were unknown as of today.  

One journalist detained in Libya, Al-Jazeera correspondent Ahmed Vall Ould Addin, was released today, the Qatar-based news station reported. Two other Al-Jazeera journalists, Kamel Atalua and Ammar al-Hamdan, remained in custody today.

“We are relieved to hear that our colleague Ahmed Vall Ould Addin has been released and we urge the Libyan government to also release the two Al-Jazeera journalists who remain in custody,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “The total number of detained journalists in Libya keeps rising because the government is detaining new journalists faster than it is releasing those it holds.”

At least 17 journalists and media workers are either missing or in government custody in Libya, CPJ research shows.

On Sunday, an Egyptian military court in Cairo sentenced blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad to three years in prison for “insulting the military,” his defense lawyer Ali Atef told CPJ. Sanad was arrested on March 28 in connection with a recent article in which he criticized the military for not being transparent in its decision-making. Atef told CPJ that the presiding military judge informed the three-attorney defense team that the case had been adjourned until April 12. Later that same day, though, after the lawyers and Sanad’s family members had left, the court announced that Sanad had been found guilty. “It is bad enough that my client, a civilian, is being tried in a military court,” Atef said. “But it’s outrageous that the court is violating his rights to a fair trial.” Although a military court verdict may not be appealed, the defense plans to file a grievance with military authorities, Atef told CPJ.

“Egypt’s ruling military council professes to support the goals of the Egyptian revolution, but seems to have forgotten that chief among those goals was ending a number of authoritarian practices, two of which are of particular relevance here: the criminalization of peaceful dissent and trials of civilians in military courts,” said CPJ’s Abdel Dayem.

Anti-press attacks were reported elsewhere in the region:

On Friday, security forces in the United Arab Emirates took prominent political blogger Ahmed Mansoor from his Dubai home, local and international media reported. His wife, Nadia, told CNN that about 10 men, two of whom wore police uniforms, seized Mansoor, along with his passport and laptop. Mansoor previously told Human Rights Watch that he had received six death threats in the week preceding his arrest. Human Rights Watch also noted that Mansoor had been subjected to a smear campaign on social networking websites.

On Sunday, authorities detained blogger Fahd al-Shehi, who had helped Mansoor manage the online forum Al-Hiwar al-Emarati. Al-Shehi has not been heard from since, local and international media reported. The online forum, which is officially banned in the UAE but regularly accessed within the country via proxy servers, focuses on politics, pluralism, and democracy, CPJ research shows. Also on Sunday, UAE authorities detained financial analyst and prominent economics lecturer Nasser bin Ghaith, regional and international media reported. Bin Ghaith, an outspoken government critic, is a frequent contributor to regional news outlets and publishes articles and analyses on his own site as well. In a recently published article, bin Ghaith criticized government policies that doled out monetary recompense in lieu of basic political rights.

In Syria, an international journalist was prevented from entering the country. Zine Cherfaoui, a correspondent for the Algerian independent daily Al-Watan, told CPJ that border police claimed he did not have the necessary clearance from the Ministry of Information. After being held at an airport hotel for four days, Cherfaoui was put on a flight back to Algeria.

On Sunday, multiple press reports said that security forces had sealed off the northern coastal city of Baniyas, effectively preventing journalists from covering protests there. The New York Times reported that information from the city was sparse as most telephone lines, electricity, and Internet in the city had been cut.

On Saturday, Yemeni authorities sealed off Al-Jazeera’s Sana’a bureau and revoked the station’s license to operate in Yemen, Bureau Chief Saeed Thabit told CPJ. The Ministry of Information had already ordered Al-Jazeera’s offices closed and its journalists stripped of accreditation on March 24. Thabit said that Al-Jazeera has yet to receive an official notice of the government’s decision. Yemen’s official news agency, SABA, quoted an Information Ministry official as saying that “this final action came after the persistence of Al-Jazeera in implementation of a sabotage scheme aimed to inciting strife, hatred and fighting in a number of provinces of Yemen.”

On Friday, Iraqi authorities prevented local and foreign journalists from accessing Ashraf, an Iranian refugee camp, in the northeastern town of Khalis, news reports said. The journalists were covering clashes between Iraqi security forces and the camp’s residents but were forced to remain at the camp gates, according to the same news accounts. Located 55 miles north of Baghdad, Ashraf is also home to Mujahedeen Khalq, a group the United States considers a terrorist organization and is dedicated to the overthrow of the government in Tehran.