Egypt detains journalist for publishing false information

New York, September 6, 2013–Military authorities have detained an Egyptian journalist in the North Sinai governorate and accused him of publishing false information on military operations, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by Ahmed Abu Deraa’s detention and calls on authorities to release him immediately.

Abu Deraa, correspondent for the independent Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper and the private television station ONTV, was detained on Wednesday, according to The Associated Press. A military prosecutor on Thursday ordered that the journalist be detained for 15 days while authorities investigate the accusations against him, according to Al-Masry al-Youm. Abu Deraa has been accused of publishing false information about the military, news reports said.

On September 3, Abu Deraa reported on Al-Masry al-Youm and on his personal Facebook page that airstrikes by Apache helicopters had injured four citizens while destroying a few houses and a mosque. The same day, the military issued a statement on its official Facebook page claiming that soldiers had injured or killed 23 terrorists in airstrikes in the Sinai.

It is not clear if the military prosecutor was citing as false information Abu Deraa’s coverage of the incident on Al-Masry al-Youm or Facebook. In his last article for Al-Masry al-Youm published September 4, Abu Deraa cited an anonymous security official who said the military was planning on creating a buffer zone with Gaza that would displace the local population.

Abu Deraa is a prominent investigative journalist in Egypt and the 2013 recipient of the European Union’s Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press for his 2012 investigative article on human trafficking in the Sinai desert. He has also reported for international outlets, including NPR.

In a statement published today, Ahmed Abu al-Qassem, secretary general of the Egyptian Online Journalists Syndicate, condemned Abu Deraa’s detention under “vague” accusations and called for his immediate release. Another Sinai journalist, Muhamed Sabry, is currently facing trial under charges of entering a military zone illegally and photographing military installations without permission.

“The detention of Ahmed Abu Deraa harkens back to the Mubarak era when journalists faced formidable obstacles reporting on military activity in the Sinai peninsula,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “The military should release him immediately and allow journalists to work freely throughout the country.”

In an unrelated incident, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim survived an assassination attempt on Thursday, when assailants detonated a bomb targeting his motorcade in Cairo, according to news reports.

At least eight journalists have been killed for their work in Egypt since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The Committee to Protect Journalists launched a petition on September 4 with the support of many prominent Egyptian journalists calling on the current military-backed government to undertake serious and impartial investigations into the killings of all journalists in Egypt, no matter who was in power at the time.

  • For more data and analysis, visit CPJ’s Egypt page.