Hossam Bahgat sits at his desk in a December 7, 2011, file photo (AP/Sarah Rafea)
Hossam Bahgat sits at his desk in a December 7, 2011, file photo (AP/Sarah Rafea)

Egypt prevents investigative journalist from leaving the country

New York, February 23, 2016- Egyptian authorities prevented journalist Hossam Bahgat from traveling from Cairo International Airport today. No reason was given for the ban.

Bahgat told CPJ that passport-control officers stopped him and told him that he had been banned from travel by Egypt’s public prosecutor. Security officers did not provide a reason for the ban, and he was not informed of any criminal case against him. Bahgat was on his way to Jordan to attend a conference organized by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia on justice in the Arab world.

“Preventing Hossam Bahgat from traveling with no justification is a violation of his rights, and has all the appearances of an attempt to intimidate and silence him,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said. “We call on Egyptian authorities to allow Bahgat and other critics to travel and work freely.”

Bahgat is an investigative journalist and regular contributor to Mada Masr, an independent website that publishes news and opinion in English and Arabic. He has written reports on politically sensitive issues such as alleged corruption and secret military trials.

Military prosecutors detained Bahgat in November on charges of publishing false news, in relation to an article he wrote for Mada Masr. He was released three days later, although the status of the charges against him is unclear, Bahgat told CPJ.

In addition to being 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 New York, from 2014 until spring 2015, when he returned to Cairo.

Egyptian authorities have imposed travel bans against members of civil society with increasing regularity in the last year, according to regional and international human rights organizations. Prominent press freedom advocate and human rights lawyer Gamal Eid was prevented from traveling to Athens on February 4. Eid was also not given any reason for the travel ban, nor was he notified of any criminal cases against him, according to news reports. Other travelers have also had their passports confiscated after being banned from travel, according to human rights groups.

CPJ research shows record numbers of journalists in jail in Egypt. The country was second only to China in the number of journalists imprisoned when CPJ conducted its most recent annual global prison census on December 1.