New York, November 8, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Egyptian authorities to immediately release investigative journalist Hossam Bahgat. Bahgat, who writes for Mada Masr, a progressive website that publishes news and opinion in English and Arabic, faces charges of publishing false news and is being held overnight by military prosecutors, according to Mada Masr.
Bahgat was summoned for questioning at military intelligence headquarters in Cairo at 9am Sunday, according to Lina Attalah, editor-in-chief of Mada Masr. Attalah told CPJ that the written summons did not specify the reasons for the questioning and that Bahgat was not allowed to bring his lawyer or his cell phone inside the building.
“The Egyptian military has already indicated its contempt for the role of an independent media with a series of arrests of journalists. This latest detention is a clear attempt to stifle reporting,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said. “The Egyptian authorities should release Hossam Bahgat immediately. The fact that he was questioned for so long without his lawyers present only heightens the outrage.”
Friends and colleagues accompanied Bahgat to the military headquarters and waited outside for him, according to accounts shared on social media. Six hours later, Bahgat made a brief phone call to a friend whose phone number he had memorized, saying he was being transferred to military prosecution headquarters for questioning, Attalah told CPJ. An hour after that, Bahgat placed a second phone call to the same friend, saying that initial charges against him included “publishing false information that harms national security.”
Seven hours after he was summoned, Bahgat’s lawyers were allowed to enter the military prosecution headquarters to accompany him, Mada Masr reported. Karim Abdelrady, a human rights lawyer who attended the questioning, wrote on social media afterwards that Bahgat is facing charges of “publishing false news that harms national security,” in relation to an article he wrote for Mada Masr in October 2015. According to reports, the article was titled “A coup busted?” and is an investigation of the military trial of 26 Egyptian officers accused of planning to overthrow the government. It was published in Arabic, along with an English translation, and circulated widely on social media.
Military prosecutors will make a decision on whether to formally charge Bahgat Monday morning, according to Mada Masr.
A report published earlier today by BBC Arabic quoted an unnamed military source saying Bahgat had been summoned regarding his reports, which the military found threatened national security.
Bahgat writes a daily press review for Mada Masr as well as investigative pieces. On Friday and Saturday he was critical in the review of Egyptian outlets for what he described as their unquestioning reliance on government narratives for coverage of the Russian passenger airplane crash in Sinai on October 31.
As well as a journalist, Bahgat is a prominent human rights defender. In 2002, he founded the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, one of the country’s best-known human rights organizations. Bahgat directed the organization until 2013. He was a visiting scholar at Columbia Journalism School in the U.S. from 2014 until spring 2015 when he returned to Cairo and began contributing to Mada Masr regularly.
CPJ research shows that Egypt has used arrests, legislation, and threats in an attempt to control the media and prevent independent reporting, particularly on matters of security and terrorism.