Journalist covering protests in Egypt jailed for two years

Washington, May 16, 2016–A criminal court in Cairo sentenced Ali Abdeen, a photographer for the news website El-Fagr, to two years in jail, according to his outlet. Abdeen, who was sentenced on May 14 alongside 50 others, was convicted of inciting illegal protests, obstructing traffic, and publishing false news, according to news reports and the local press freedom group, Journalists Against Torture Observatory.

Abdeen, also known as Ali Beka, was arrested in downtown Cairo on April 25 while attempting to cover protests against an Egyptian government deal to hand control of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, according to reports. After his sentencing, Abdeen was sent to prison to await his appeal, which is due to be heard on May 21, according to news reports. Representatives from Abdeen’s news outlet, El-Fagr, presented testimony to the court that he was on assignment, covering the protests for the website at the time of his arrest.

“Egyptian authorities insist on punishing the press for merely reporting the news while denying, with a straight face, that journalism is the reason for these arrests,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour. “We call on Egyptian authorities to release Ali Abdeen immediately and to not contest his appeal.”

At least 33 journalists were detained on April 25, but most have been released, according to the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate, Journalists Against Torture Observatory, and Egyptian news websites. In a report issued Sunday, the observatory said that on the day of the protests it documented 97 violations against journalists, including 46 detentions, 16 beatings, and 10 cases of equipment being confiscated.

Separately, in a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on May 11, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry denied that journalists in Egypt were being arrested arbitrarily, according to reports. “Anyone who has been imprisoned has been imprisoned for having circumvented laws or having perpetrated violent activities,” Shoukry said at the meeting, which had been convened to discuss how to counter extremist groups such as Islamic State.

Shoukry said that journalists who protested in Egypt against a raid by authorities on the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate in Cairo earlier this month were “harboring” people who were “inciting to assassinate the president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.”

In response to Shoukry’s comments, two lawyers who are representing the jailed Yanair news website journalists Amr Badr and Mahmoud al-Sakka, pointed out that the journalists had not been accused of inciting to assassinate the president, according to posts on the lawyers’ personal Facebook accounts and local media.

Badr and al-Sakka were ordered to be detained for 15 days after being arrested on May 2 for allegedly inciting protests, attempting to overthrow the regime, and broadcasting false news with the aim of disturbing public peace. The journalists, who were staging a sit-in protest at the time of their arrest, deny the accusations, their lawyers said. On Saturday, a criminal court renewed their detention for 15 more days, according to news reports.

Egypt was the second worst jailer of journalists worldwide, with 23 journalists behind bars, at the time of CPJ’s last prison census.