A police officer is seen in Cairo, Egypt, on March 25, 2020. Authorities recently detained journalist Haisam Mahgoub on false news and terrorism allegations. (Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

Egypt detains journalist Haisam Mahgoub on false news, terrorism allegations

May 14, 2020 1:50 PM ET

New York, May 14, 2019 -- Egyptian authorities should immediately release journalist Haisam Hasan Mahgoub and let him report freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On May 11, state security officers arrested Mahgoub, a reporter and photojournalist for the local privately owned news outlet Al-Masry al-Youm, at his home in the Cairo neighborhood of Dar el-Salam, according to news reports and the journalist’s lawyer Karim Abdelrady, who spoke with CPJ over the phone. Yesterday, Cairo's national security prosecutor ordered Mahgoub to be detained for 15 days pending an investigation, Abdelrady said.

During the May 11 arrest, the officers told Mahgoub and his family that he was being arrested for violating the nationwide COVID-19 curfew, Abdelrady told CPJ. However, the prosecutor’s order did not mention the curfew, and said that he was being held on allegations that he spread false news and joined and funded a terrorist group, the lawyer said.

“While some governments worldwide pardon prisoners during the time of COVID-19, Egypt is determined to keep its prisons full of journalists instead of letting them cover the pandemic and other news events freely,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. "Egyptian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Haisam Mahgoub, and drop any investigation into him and his work.”

Mahgoub has worked for Al-Masry al-Youm since 2012, Abdelrady told CPJ. He recently covered human interest stories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to CPJ’s review of his work.

CPJ emailed the Ministry of Interior, which oversees the security forces, for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.

In March, Egypt expelled journalist Ruth Michaelson, a reporter for U.K. newspaper The Guardian, for casting doubt about the government’s official statistics regarding the pandemic, as CPJ documented at the time.