CPJ calls on Egypt to release imprisoned journalist

New York, November 19–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Egypt to release Abdelrahman Abu Ouf, deputy editor-in-chief of Al Mesryoon, who was arrested Saturday, according to reports. The ongoing crackdown on press also included the brief detention of a journalist for the German news agency DPA, and a presenter on a state-run channel who was suspended from her job for statements she made on air, according to reports.

Abu Ouf, deputy editor-in-chief of Al Mesryoon, was arrested in a pre-dawn raid on his home in the governorate of Qalyubia Saturday morning, according to news reports. Police seized the personal laptop of the journalist, who is also known as Abdelrahman Jomaa, as well as copies of Al Mesryoon, a privately owned daily newspaper, according to news reports.

Within hours of his arrest, prosecutors ordered the journalist be detained for 15 days pending investigation into accusations he belonged to a banned group, a reference to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, reports said. He is being held in Qanater al-Khaieria police station, reports said.

“Even as Egyptian officials make public statements about unprecedented freedom of the press in their country, the government continues to arrest journalist after journalist,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said. “We call on authorities to immediately release Abdelrahman Abou Ouf.”

In an op-ed published in Arabic Monday, Al Mesryoon’s executive editor-in-chief Mahmoud Sultan said Abu Ouf did not belong to any political movement or group. Abu Ouf’s reporting exposed corruption in Egyptian businesses, but now he is in jail while many of these corrupt businessmen are free, Sultan wrote. In August, CPJ documented how Egypt’s government interfered in the printing of the newspaper over articles critical of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Abu Ouf has sources in Islamic and jihadist groups, which may be the reason for his arrest, a journalist who knows him and who asked to remain anonymous out of security concerns, told CPJ. Abu Ouf led the political Islam beat at Al Mesryoon since it was founded in 2005, the journalist said. Abu Ouf was critical both of the leadership of el-Sisi, who took power after the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, and Mohamed Morsi, who preceded him, the journalist added.

Also on Saturday, Sobhi Shuaib, who works at the Cairo bureau of German news agency DPA, was arrested at his home in the Gharbia governorate, according to news reports. CPJ was unable to confirm the reason for his arrest or whether he had been charged. The Egyptian Journalists Syndicate issued a statement that day condemning the arrests of Shuaib and Abu Ouf. Prosecutors ordered Shuaib’s release Sunday, according to statements by the syndicate. CPJ was unable to reach the journalist directly and DPA’s Cairo office did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, a local rights group, confirmed in a statement Sunday that Shuaib had been released.

In a separate incident, the State Broadcasting Authority said in a statement it was suspending Azza el-Henawy from her role as a presenter for the state-run broadcaster on November 8 pending an investigation after she called for government accountability on air. In statements made to the press last week, Hani Jaafar, head of regional programming at the Broadcasting Authority, said el-Henawy was being investigated over comments she made during her show “Akhbar al-Qahera” (Cairo’s News) on the state-run channel Al-Qahera on November 3. Jaafar said el-Henawy “did not commit to the episode’s script, and aired her own opinion, violating the professional code.”

After a segment discussing flooding in Alexandria and other cities, which resulted in deaths and building collapses, el-Henawy spoke about the government response to the flooding. Addressing el-Sisi, she said: “As long as there is no accountability mechanism for all officials in the country, including you, all your promises will go in vain.”

In media interviews since the incident, el-Henawy said she will appeal her suspension.

CPJ research has found arrests of journalists to be at an all-time high in Egypt, with at least 18 in jail for their reporting. Many of them are charged with belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood.