CPJ requests information about alleged detention of two journalists in Egypt

New York, April 17, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists wrote to the Egyptian Ministry of Justice on Thursday requesting information about two journalists who were allegedly arrested on Tuesday while attempting to cover the bombing of two electrical pylons that transmit power to the Media Production City in Cairo.

In the letter, CPJ requested that the Justice Ministry provide the names of the journalists who have allegedly been detained, their location, and any charges against them. Widespread media reports indicated two journalists had been arrested, but CPJ has been unable to identify them. It is unclear if the journalists are still being detained.

“We condemn the bombing that cut off power to Cairo’s Media Production City,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “We ask for the government’s cooperation in clarifying the circumstances around the alleged detention of two journalists at the site of the bombing.”

The alleged arrests came early Tuesday, when six bombs hit two electrical pylons, located a few miles from the Media Production City, a complex housing private news outlets in the capital’s suburb of 6th October, according to news reports. No one was injured, the reports said. The Media Production City relies on the pylons for its electricity, news reports said citing the head of the complex.

The compound, which houses the satellite company Nilesat and several TV studios, had no electricity for five hours, during which broadcasting for several TV stations was disrupted, news reports said. Egypt’s Electricity and Renewable Energy ministry told local media that the compound would run on electricity generators until the pylons were restored. Broadcasting by all TV channels has resumed.

Two militant groups, the Islamist Ajnad Masr group, which is active in Cairo, and the Egyptian anti-government group Al-Iqab al Thawry, claimed responsibility for the attack, according to news reports.

According to news reports, Major General Magdy Abdelal, a high-ranking officer within the State Security Investigations unit responsible for the area, ordered security forces early Tuesday to obstruct journalists from the area of the bombing. At 2 a.m. Tuesday, according to news reports, security forces allegedly arrested two journalists for the Kuwaiti satellite station Al-Shahed who were trying to film at the site of the bombings. The journalists have not been identified in news reports, and Al-Shahed station has not reported on their arrests. CPJ’s calls and emails to Al-Shahed have not been returned or answered.

News reports said Abdelal accused the journalists of working for the Qatari-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera. The broadcaster has been heavily targeted by Egyptian authorities, and its local channel, Al-Jazeera Masr Mubasher, is banned in Egypt. The journalists reportedly denied working for Al-Jazeera and said they had official accreditation to film as required in Egypt. They were taken to a police station in 6th October, according to news accounts, which have not reported any charges filed against them.

CPJ was unable to reach the police station in 6th October.

Tamer Abu Arab, a local freelance journalist, told CPJ he was among the first journalists to arrive at the site of the bombing and that he saw the two journalists being arrested. He wrote on his Facebook page that the two turned off their camera as soon as they were told to by an officer. Abu Arab said the journalists were verbally harassed and then arrested despite telling the officer that they had permission to film.

A second series of bombings on Wednesday night damaged three high-voltage electrical distribution towers near the complex. The explosions did not affect Media Production City, and there were no injuries, according to news reports. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Egypt’s Media Production City has been the site of political confrontation several times in the past few years. In March 2013, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood laid siege to the compound, harassing journalists who were critical of then President Mohamed Morsi and preventing them from reaching their studios. In July and August 2013, Brotherhood supporters clashed with police outside the compound, where they were protesting the closure of several TV channels with Islamist leanings by the authorities following Morsi’s ouster.

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