With more journalist arrests, press freedom further declines in Egypt

New York, July 6, 2015–Egyptian authorities arrested four journalists last week around the two-year anniversary of the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, according to news reports and local press freedom groups.

Wagdy Khaled, a photographer for the weekly newspaper Al-Masriya, was arrested on Friday while he was taking photographs outside the Omar Makram mosque in downtown Cairo, according to local press freedom groups. He is being held in Cairo’s Kasr el Nil police station pending investigation on charges of belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood group, according to news reports.

Police on Wednesday arrested Mohamed Adly, a correspondent for the independent newspaper Tahrir; Hamdy Mokhtar, a photojournalist for the opposition news website El-Shaab el-Jadeed; and freelance journalist Sherif Ashraf in Cairo on Wednesday, according to the local press freedom group Journalists Against Torture Observatory and news reports. The journalists were covering the arrival of the bodies of nine Muslim Brotherhood members who had been killed in a raid by security forces that day, according to the reports. The raid occurred two days after Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat was killed in a bomb attack on his convoy in Cairo. Egypt’s State Information Service said the Muslim Brotherhood was behind the attack.

The journalists are held pending investigation on charges of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, spreading false information, and working for Al-Jazeera, which is banned in Egypt, according to news reports and local press freedom groups. The three are being held in Sayyeda Zeinab police station in Cairo.

“The crackdown on the press is deepening at a time when the public needs independent reporting on the security threats that Egypt is facing,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said. “We call on the authorities to release these journalists immediately and drop all charges against them.”

Egypt was holding at least 18 journalists in prison on June 1, according to a census conducted by CPJ. Most of the journalists have been accused of belonging to the Brotherhood.

At least six other journalists were arrested in Cairo on July 1, but were released on the same day, according to the Journalists Against Torture Observatory. The group also documented four cases last week in which journalists were obstructed from covering events and attacks.

In a separate case, Mohamed al-Amin, head of the privately owned television channel CBC; Magdy el-Gallad, the editor-in-chief of Al-Watan newspaper; and Wael Saad, a journalist for the same paper, were sentenced on Thursday to six months in prison and each fined 10,000 Egyptian pounds (US$1,290) in a criminal defamation suit, according Al-Watan and news reports. The suit was brought by Fathy al-Azazi, head of the Financial Irregularities Division at the Accountability State Authority, who accused the journalists of spreading false news about the Authority on the CBC TV show “Lazem Nefham,” according to reports.

Separately, Mohamed el-Battawy, a correspondent for the independent daily Akhbar al-Youm, was arrested at his home in the governorate of Qalyoubiya on June 17, according to news reports. He is being held on charges of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, according to his outlet.

On Sunday, the government announced an anti-terrorism bill, which includes an article that would impose a minimum of two years in prison on journalists convicted of publishing news about terrorist operations “that contradict official statements,” according to news reports. The Egyptian Journalists Syndicate and several press freedom groups said the article was unconstitutional. The bill awaits the approval of President Abdelfattah el-Sisi.

“Journalists’ ability to report and investigate in Egypt is already severely hampered by security forces,” CPJ’s Mansour said. “If adopted, this law will mean that the only permissible narrative on certain stories is that of the state.”

  • For more on journalists imprisoned in Egypt, see CPJ’s most recent prison census here.