Egypt arrests Al-Jazeera producer on fake news charge

December 27, 2016 3:29 PM ET

New York, December 27, 2016--Egyptian authorities must release Al-Jazeera news producer Mahmoud Hussein immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Officials initially questioned Hussein on December 20 when he arrived in Egypt on a family visit from Qatar, where he is based, according to reports. Hussein was arrested on December 23, Al-Jazeera said.

Egypt's Interior Ministry confirmed in a December 25 statement published on its website that Hussein was being held on charges of "incitement against state institutions and broadcasting false news with the aim of spreading chaos." The ministry said that Hussein worked with Al-Jazeera to produce fake documentaries about the country's institutions. Authorities ordered him to be detained for 15 days pending investigation, Al-Jazeera reported. In a statement on its website, Al-Jazeera described the charges against Hussein as fabricated and said it was concerned for his safety.

The arrest comes after Al-Jazeera broadcast a documentary, "Al-Asaker" (The Soldiers), in November, about conscription in Egypt. The documentary was criticized in Egypt by government officials and local media, who said that it attempted to incite against the armed forces and allegedly used fake footage.

On December 25, pro-government and state-run media broadcast police videos of Hussein that they described as confessions. A narrator in one of the interviews, which were filmed in several locations, claimed that the videos showed evidence against Hussein. Two of the videos showed him standing by production equipment that he said Al-Jazeera asked him to keep in his family's homes after the broadcaster was forced to close its Egyptian office in 2013.

"Egyptian authorities are waging a systematic campaign against Al-Jazeera, consisting of arbitrary arrest, censorship, and systematic harassment," said Sherif Mansour, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "Egypt must release Mahmoud Hussein immediately and ends its crackdown on the press."

Al-Jazeera closed its Egypt offices in 2013 after they were raided and shut down by authorities, CPJ documented at the time. In the past two years, three Al-Jazeera Arabic journalists have been sentenced to death in absentia and three journalists from Al-Jazeera English were sentenced for up to 10 years in jail in Egypt for "aiding a terrorist organization," spreading false news, and working without a license, according to news reports. They were later released.

Egypt has 25 journalists in jail in relation to their work, according to CPJ's annual prison census.

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