Egypt detains more journalists as elections approach

New York, April 10, 2014–Two journalists were arrested in Egypt on Wednesday and new charges filed against three others, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the Egyptian government’s renewed crackdown on the press as presidential elections approach in May. 

“If the Egyptian government is serious about organizing free and fair presidential elections, it must end this campaign against the press and release all journalists in jail,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “You cannot have a free election without a free press and independent news coverage.”

On Wednesday, Egyptian security forces arrested Ahmed al-Ajos and Abdel Rahman Shaheen, correspondents for Freedom and Justice News Gate, a news website affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, and accused them of inciting and committing violence in recent protests, according to the website and other news reports. The Egyptian government has declared the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization.

Al-Ajos was arrested from his home in Minufiyah, while Shaheen was arrested on the street in Suez City, according to news sources. Both have been placed in pre-trial detention, according to reports.

Freedom and Justice News Gate condemned the arrest and denied the accusations against the reporters in a statement issued on Wednesday.

Egyptian authorities often use legal harassment and detention as a means to silence critical journalists, including those affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, according to CPJ research. More than 60 journalists have been detained since July 2013, when the Egyptian army ousted former President Mohamed Morsi, according to CPJ research. Most have been freed.

In a separate case, Egyptian authorities in late March substituted charges against three journalists–Abdullah Alfakharany, co-founder of the critical news website Rassd, Samhi Mustafa, Rassd‘s executive director, and Mohamed al-Adly, presenter of the religious satellite channel Amgad TV–who have been detained since August 2013, according to reports.

Egyptian Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat charged the journalists with “spreading chaos” and “spreading false information” in their coverage of fatalities and injuries sustained during the dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adaweya square in Cairo in August. The previous charges against the journalists were unrelated to their work and included “disturbing the peace,” according to their lawyer, Ahmed Helmy. The lawyer denied the new charges against them.

In another case, a Giza criminal court today adjourned the trial against three Al-Jazeera journalists–Cairo Bureau Chief Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, correspondent Peter Greste, and producer Baher Mohamed–to April 22, and denied their request for release on bail, according to Al-Jazeera. The three have been held since December.

Mohamed Lotfy, an Egypt researcher for Amnesty International who is monitoring the trial in Cairo, told CPJ that the court had watched videos found on Greste’s flash drive that showed a press conference in Kenya, a BBC film on Somalia, and a report on tourism in Egypt’s Luxor City, in addition to the 2012 elections in Egypt. None of the reports were produced while Greste was working for Al-Jazeera, news accounts said.

“Authorities clearly have no evidence to indict these three journalists, and we call for their immediate release,” CPJ’s Mansour said. “The Egyptian government is only embarrassing itself further each time the trial is prolonged.”

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