Posters calling for the release of photojournalists Mohammad al-Batawi, right, and Shawkan, are held up in Cairo. A U.N. working group says that Shawkan's detention is arbitrary. (AP/Amr Nabil)
Posters calling for the release of photojournalists Mohammad al-Batawi, right, and Shawkan, are held up in Cairo. A U.N. working group says that Shawkan's detention is arbitrary. (AP/Amr Nabil)

In Egypt, censorship, an arrest, and court hearings for journalists

Restrictions against the press continue in Egypt, with ongoing trials of journalists, some of whom have been in detention for more than three years, allegations that a TV station was ordered to drop a planned broadcast of an interview with a former official, and a reporter detained while trying to cover a sensitive story. Egypt has been a leading jailer of journalists for more than a year, and the country’s press is regularly harassed. CPJ has documented the following press freedom violations in the past week:

Reporter arrested in Alexandria

Alhussein Fouad, a reporter for the privately owned daily Al Masry Al Youm, was arrested November 5 while filming interviews about the rise in fuel prices in Alexandria, and held in a police station overnight, according to his outlet. Authorities did not give the reporter a reason for his arrest.

“90 Minutes” interview cut

An interview with Egypt’s former top auditor Hesham Geneina on Al Mehwar TV, which was canceled the day it was due to be broadcast, has led to reports in Egypt’s press that the station was allegedly ordered by authorities to not air the segment. Al Mehwar TV canceled the interview, recorded with presenter Moataz Demerdash for the show “90 Minutes,” an hour before its scheduled air time on October 29. In a statement on October 30 , the channel said the segment was dropped due to “legal responsibilities” related to the case against Geneina, and that it would air the segment once that case had been resolved. Geneina is standing trial on a charge of spreading false news after alleging in interviews that the country had experienced massive losses due to government corruption. Mada Masr reported that the interview, which the channel had been promoting in the lead up to October 29, was canceled at the request of General Abbas Kamel, head of the office of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Court sessions for jailed journalists

A criminal court today postponed a hearing to renew the pre-trial detention of three journalists–Hamdy Mokhtar, Mohamed Hassan, and Osama al-Bishbishi–until tomorrow, according to local press freedom groups. The photojournalists, who work for local outlets, were arrested while filming interviews with passerby on September 26, and have been charged with publishing false news. The journalists were moved from Kasr el-Nil police station, where they had been held since their arrest, to Tora Istiqbal prison on October 29.

Yesterday, a court session was held in the retrial of Abdullah al-Fakharany, Samhi Mustafa, and other journalists who were sentenced to life in prison in the case known as “Raba’a Operations Room,” local press freedom groups reported. Al-Fakharany and Mustafa worked for Rassd, a news outlet that supported the ousted Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi. At least four other journalists are being tried in the same case on a charge of forming a media operations room to support the banned Muslim Brotherhood group. In December 2015, the Cairo Court of Cassation accepted the defendants’ appeals and ordered the case be retried due to insufficient evidence. The next court session is due to be held December 3.

In an opinion published November 3, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that the detention of photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid, better known as Shawkan, is arbitrary. Shawkan has been in jail since August 2013. During his latest court session on November 1, the journalist’s lawyers submitted a request to the court that Shawkan be released on medical grounds, the lawyers told CPJ. They argued that he has been held in pretrial detention for more than three years, which exceeds the two-year legal limit on detention in such cases. The next session will be held on November 19. Shawkan is being honored with CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award on November 22.

On November 2, the Journalists’ Syndicate, Egypt’s official press union, submitted a list of detained journalists to the Committee on Detained Youth, a group formed at President Sisi’s request after he attended a National Youth Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh last week. The committee is mandated to review cases of pre-trial detention on charges related to freedom of expression. The syndicate’s list includes 29 journalists, including Hisham Jaafar, director of the Mada Foundation for Media Development who was arrested in October 2015; Ismail Alexandrani, a freelance journalist arrested in November 2015; and Shawkan, who was arrested in 2013. CPJ could not determine what power the committee has to secure the release of journalists in pre-trial detention.