New York, September 30, 2016 - Egyptian authorities should immediately drop all charges against four journalists arrested in Cairo this week, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The three journalists still in detention told their lawyer security forces had beaten and electrocuted them during interrogation.
Photojournalists Hamdy Mokhtar, Mohamed Hassan, and Osama al-Bishbishi were arrested on September 26 while filming near the Journalists' Syndicate in downtown Cairo, according to news reports and local press freedom organizations. Correspondent Noura Nasser was arrested on September 27 while covering a protest, also in downtown Cairo. All four journalists have been charged with "publishing false news," among other accusations.
"The delusion that jailing journalists on charges of reporting 'false news' for interviewing people on the street or photographing a protest will change reality is a false hope," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. "We call on Egyptian authorities to drop all charges against journalists Hamdy Mokhtar, Mohamed Hassan, and Osama al-Bishbishi, and Noura Nasser without delay."
Each of the three journalists arrested on September 26 works with a different privately owned outlet, but were arrested together while interviewing passersby for their opinions on a recent initiative by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi encouraging Egyptians to donate their spare change in order to fund national projects, an initiative that sparked ridicule on social media.
Security forces arrested them on the spot, without stating any clear reason, according to a statement published by news website al-Naba'a, Hassan's employer. Al-Bishbishi is a photographer and cameraman with the news website Baladi. Mokhtar is a freelance photographer who works with the newspaper el-Shaab el-Jadeed, which is generally supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership ousted in 2013.
The three journalists were interrogated by prosecutors and officers from Egypt's domestic intelligence agency throughout the night of September 27, lawyers Fatema Serag and Nourhan Hassan told the Egyptian press freedom group Journalists Against Torture Observatory. The next morning, prosecutors charged all three with belonging to a banned organization, inciting violence and terrorism online, and publishing false news. Prosecutors ordered them held in pretrial detention for a renewable 15 days.
The lawyer Hassan, who is also Mohamed Hassan's sister, said in her statement that all three journalists said they had been beaten, kicked, and electrocuted in custody. She said that Mokhtar had shown the worst signs of physical abuse, with visible bruises to his neck and back.
CPJ called the main phone line and emailed the human rights desk at the Ministry of Interior for comment on the arrests and the allegations of abuse yesterday and today, but received no response.
Mokhtar was arrested in July 2015, while at the state morgue covering the arrival of bodies of alleged Muslim Brotherhood members who had been killed by security forces. He was released on bail two months later. In January 2016, a court sentenced him in absentia to three years in prison for publishing false news.
In a separate case, Noura Nasser, a correspondent and photographer for the opposition news website Masr al-Arabia, was arrested while covering a protest organized by graduate students in front of the cabinet building in downtown Cairo on September 27, according to her employer. Nasser, who is better known as Nermeen Fathy, was released late yesterday, but still faces charges of "publishing false news," spreading information on social media on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood, and "harming national unity," Masr al-Arabia reported yesterday.