Egypt arrests press advocate, accuses him of belonging to banned group

Washington, July 24, 2015–Egyptian authorities on Tuesday arrested the head of a journalists syndicate and accused him of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the arrest and calls on the Egyptian government to release Aboubakr Khallaf immediately.

Khallaf is the founder and head of the independent Electronic Media Syndicate (EMS), which trains and supports journalists who work online in Egypt. The syndicate operates independently from the state-recognized Egyptian Journalists Syndicate.

Khallaf was arrested and accused of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in Egypt, according to the news website Dot Msr. The local press freedom group Journalists Against Torture and the local Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) said Khallaf was also accused of “taking pictures and displaying artistic works without a license,” among other allegations. A 1998 executive order states that individuals conducting audio and audiovisual work must have a license from the Ministry of Culture. According to AFTE, the accusation is in connection with Khallaf photographing the funeral of Hisham Barakat, Egypt’s prosecutor general who was assassinated late last month.

On Wednesday, a Cairo prosecutor extended Khallaf’s detention for four days, the sources said. He has not been formally charged.

Khallaf was arrested after a news article was published on Friday by the government-owned daily Akhbar Elyoum, which accused Khallaf and his syndicate, along with other media outlets, including the news website Masr Al-Arabiya, of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and receiving money from the group.

On Saturday, Khallaf denied the accusations on his personal Facebook page. On July 21, Masr Al-Arabiya wrote an open letter to the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate, saying it was a victim of a smear campaign and that the staff demanded a right of reply.

Egyptian authorities were holding at least 18 journalists in jail on June 1, according to a census conducted by CPJ. Most of the journalists were accused of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood.

“We see a pattern of reports by government-aligned media accusing journalists and news outlets of working for the Muslim Brotherhood, followed by the arrests of those journalists. Authorities have already used this charge to put a record number of journalists in jail,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “Egyptian authorities should release Aboubakr Khallaf immediately and stop this harassment of critical media groups.”

Last week, authorities arrested Yahya Khalaf, the director of Yaqeen news network, and raided the outlet’s offices after the government-aligned Egyptian news website Al-Watan reported that the network had employed members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Khalaf remains in custody. On July 16, the Egyptian Ministry of Interior released a statement on its Facebook page saying the raid on Yaqeen‘s offices was part of a crackdown on the banned Muslim Brotherhood group. On Monday, the network announced on its Facebook page that it was shutting down.

Also on Tuesday, a Cairo court extended the pre-trial detention of freelance photographer Mahmoud Abou Zeid, also known as “Shawkan,” to August 3, according to news reports. Zeid has been imprisoned since August 2013 and has been accused of weapons possession, illegal assembly, murder, and attempted murder. He has not been formally charged, according to the Freedom for Shawkan campaign.

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