Journalists released from prison in Egypt, but others remain

New York, September 17, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release on bail of two journalists in Egypt and calls on authorities to free the 11 other journalists still behind bars. The move comes days before Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is set to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York, according to news reports.

“We are relieved that these two journalists are free. Egyptian authorities must now continue along this path and release all journalists behind bars and reform the oppressive laws that put them there,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator.

Hussein Hassan Sobhy and Ahmed al-Ajos were released in the past week after being detained in early 2014 under Egypt’s controversial protest law, according to reports. Their cases are ongoing.

The Egyptian Cabinet is expected to amend the protest law in coming days, according to news reports. The law bans any demonstration that has not received prior police approval and allows security forces to bar any public gathering of more than 10 individuals.

Several journalists and activists have been charged under the law’s provisions, including blogger Alaa Abd el-Fattah, who was convicted in June of attacking a police officer and protesting the government’s ban on unsanctioned demonstrations. El-Fattah, who was imprisoned after being sentenced in absentia to 15 years, was released on bail on Monday, according to reports.

The South Giza Court on September 15 ordered Sobhy to be released on bail of 10,000 pounds (US$1,394), according to the journalist’s employer, Radio Horytna. The station’s director, Ahmed Samih, told CPJ that Sobhy was not released until today. The journalist was arrested on February 21, 2014, while covering a protest by the Muslim Brotherhood in the Al-Haram district of Giza, according to news reports. He was accused of joining an illegal demonstration despite evidence submitted by the station to the police that showed Sobhy was on a professional assignment.

On September 10, a court in Shebeen city ordered al-Ajos, correspondent for Freedom and Justice News Gate, to be freed from jail pending trial, according to his employer. A court will issue a verdict in his case on October 12. The journalist was arrested at his home in Minufiyah on April 9, 2014, and accused of inciting and committing violence in protests, accusations denied by his employer. Freedom and Justice News Gate is a news website affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Egyptian government has declared to be a terrorist organization.

At least 11 other journalists are still behind bars in Egypt, according to CPJ research. Four of them have been convicted. Al-Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Peter Greste were given seven-year terms, while Baher Mohamed was given 10 years in prison by a Cairo court on June 23, according to reports. Abdel Rahman Shaheen, a correspondent for Freedom and Justice News Gate, was sentenced by a Suez court in June to three years in prison on charges of inciting and committing violence during protests in April.

Another journalist imprisoned in Egypt, Ahmed Gamal, started waging a hunger strike on August 25 in protest of his detention, according to a letter he sent to the news website Yanair. Gamal, photojournalist for the online news network Yaqeen, was arrested on December 28, 2013, while covering student protests at Al-Azhar University and was accused of participating in an illegal demonstration and assaulting a police officer.

More than a dozen Egyptian journalists waged a hunger strike this past week in protest of the repressive climate for press freedom in the country, according to news reports.