Washington, D.C., July 10, 2018--The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Egyptian authorities to drop the charges against a group of journalists held in pretrial detention for false news and release the journalists immediately.
Cairo's national security prosecutor on July 4 charged at least eight journalists with spreading false news and added their cases to a larger case of individuals, including other journalists, academics, and politicians, facing the same accusation, according to local press freedom groups, including The Arab Network of Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), and the independent news website Mada Masr. The journalists will all remain in government detention pending the national security prosecutor's decision to conclude the investigation by either releasing them or sending their cases to trial, according to the same reports.
"Just when you think Egyptian authorities cannot make a greater mockery of justice, they find a way," said CPJ's Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. "These false news charges are merely a tactic to justify the arbitrary detention of journalists who should not have been arrested in the first place."
The eight journalists are:
- Wael Abbas, a blogger, was arrested at home on May 23, CPJ documented at the time. His sister Rasha told the London based Al-Arabi TV on July 5 that her brother was handcuffed, hanged from the wall of his cell and kept in his underwear during his detention. Cairo's national security prosecutor renewed his 15-day detention on July 4, according to ANHRI, AFTE, and Mada Masr.
- Mohamed Abu Zeid, a Tahrir news website photographer, turned himself in to authorities on June 7 after police raided his house in May, his lawyer Nour Fahmy told Mada Masr. Cairo's national security prosecutor ordered his detention, according to Mada Masr. Cairo's national security prosecutor renewed his 15-day detention on July 4, according to the same report.
- Fatma Diaa Eddin, a freelance photographer, was arrested on April 24 along with her husband and infant child in Giza train station on their way to Assiut on a family trip. She appeared before the national security prosecutor eight days later and was charged with spreading false news, according to news reports. Eddin's husband remains in custody; the child was released, according to ANHRI. Cairo's national security prosecutor renewed her 15-day detention on July 4, according to the same report.
- Shorouk Amgad, a freelance photographer, was arrested on April 25 along with two of her friends in downtown Cairo. The next day, a Nasr City national security prosecutor ordered her detention, the journalist's lawyer, Israa Al-Kurdi, told Mada Masr. Amgad is also the fiancée of freelancer Ahmed al-Sakhawy who was arrested in September on charges of "disseminating false news" and "belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood," according to news reports. She spoke to CPJ last year about his harsh treatment in custody. Cairo's national security prosecutor renewed her 15-day detention on July 4, according to Mada Masr.
- Moataz Wadnan, a Huffington Post Arabi reporter, was arrested on February 16. Cairo's national security prosecutor on July 3 renewed Wadnan's 15-day detention. Wadnan's health has deteriorated in custody after he went on a hunger strike to protest his solitary confinement in Tora prison, the journalist's lawyer, Amro Ahmed, told Huffington Post Arabi following Wadnan's July 3 hearing.
- Adel Abdel-Rahman al-Ansari, a freelance photographer, was arrested on May 8 at a police checkpoint in Cairo. His detention in Tora prison was renewed on June 27 for 15 days, Mada Masr and ANHRI reported.
- Hassan al-Banna, an intern at the pro-government newspaper Al Shorouk Daily, and Mostafa al-Aasar, a freelancer for the regional newspapers Al-Quds and Al-Arabi, were arrested on February 4, according to the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS). Cairo's national security prosecutor renewed their detention on July 5.
CPJ's requests for comment sent via email to the prosecutor general's office were not immediately answered.
Cairo's national security prosecutor had previously charged three other journalists in custody with false news, according to news reports. They will also remain in government detention pending the national security prosecutor's decision to conclude the investigation by either releasing them or sending their cases to trial, according to the same reports. The three journalists are:
- Mohamed Ibrahim, a blogger, was arrested on April 6 and his detention was renewed on June 27. On June 13, ANHRI reported that prison guards beat him with sticks while he was in custody because he protested his solitary confinement.
- Tarek Ibrahim Ziada, a documentary film editor, was arrested on February 28. Cairo's national security prosecutor on July 3 renewed his detention for 15 days.
- Adel Sabri, a Masr al-Arabiya website editor, was arrested on April 4. A Giza criminal court yesterday ordered his release on bail of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (US$560). His employer, citing his lawyer, reported that he is due for release today.
In a February statement, the country's top prosecutor urged legal action against media outlets "in light of recently observed attempts by the 'forces of evil' to undermine the security and safety of the country through publishing lies and fake news through different media outlets and social media," CPJ documented at the time.
Of the 20 journalists in Egyptian jails at the time of CPJ's most recent annual prison census on December 1, eight journalists were charged with false news, according to CPJ research. CPJ has documented how Egyptian authorities used false news charges and other measures this year to curb critical reporting ahead of the March presidential elections. The practice continued with further crackdown against journalists and activists after President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi was re-elected.