Washington, D.C., February 19, 2019–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns yesterday’s detention and expulsion of New York Times correspondent David D. Kirkpatrick and the ongoing detention of Egyptian journalist Ahmed Gamal Ziada, and calls on Egyptian authorities to allow journalists to travel into the country and report freely.
Kirkpatrick had his phone confiscated and was held incommunicado in the airport for seven hours without food or water before authorities forced him onto a flight back to London without explanation, according to the Times. Authorities returned his phone, one of Kirkpatrick’s colleagues told CPJ. The paper called the expulsion a threat to Egypt’s position as a center of the international press in the Middle East.
“Journalists including David Kirkpatrick and Ahmed Gamal Ziada serve the Egyptian and international publics by speaking truth to power and exposing corruption, injustice, and lies,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Egyptian authorities must free all journalists in custody and allow the media to do its job without fear of imprisonment or harassment.”
The Egyptian prosecutor general’s office and Ministry of Interior, which oversee the authorities at Cairo International Airport, did not immediately respond to CPJ’s emailed requests for comment.
Kirkpatrick was Cairo bureau chief for the Times from 2011 to 2015, and is the author of a recent book on the country’s 2011 uprising, according to the Times. Last year, he reported on Egyptian authorities’ control of news coverage on relations with Israel, among other sensitive topics.
The move against Kirkpatrick comes after authorities detained Ziada in Cairo International Airport upon his return to Egypt from Tunisia on January 29; Ziada was held incommunicado until his charges–spreading false news on social media–were announced on February 13, according to local rights groups and media reports.
On February 16, Ziada’s detention was extended by an additional 15 days, according to Egyptian independent news website Mada Masr.
Ziada was returning to Egypt to finish his application for membership in Egypt’s semi-governmental Journalists Syndicate, which provides official accreditation and legal support to journalists, according to his colleagues who petitioned the syndicate on social media to approve his membership. Today, the syndicate board members officially granted membership to Ziada, according to posts by journalists and a former syndicate board member on social media.
Ziada was first arrested on charges of spreading false news and joining a banned group in December 2013, when he was working as a photojournalist for the online news network Yaqeen, but he was acquitted and released 16 months later, CPJ documented at the time.
In December 2018, CPJ’s annual prison survey found that at least 25 journalists are in prison in Egypt, and that Egypt leads the world for charging journalists with publishing false news.