Security forces are seen in Cairo, Egypt, on March 29, 2020. Authorities recently arrested two freelance journalists in Cairo. (AP/Nariman El-Mofty)

Egyptian security forces detain 2 freelance journalists

New York, May 28, 2020 — Egyptian authorities should immediately release journalists Sameh Haneen and Shimaa Samy, and drop all charges against them, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On May 16, state security officers in Cairo arrested Haneen, a freelance journalist and documentary producer, at his home, according to news reports. Later that day, Cairo’s national security prosecutor charged him with spreading false news, misusing social media to disrupt national security, and joining a terrorist organization–specifically the Muslim Brotherhood–according to news reports. The prosecutor ordered Haneen to be detained for 15 days pending investigation, according to those reports.

On May 20, state security officers arrested Samy, a freelance journalist, at her home in Alexandria, according to her lawyer, Nabih el-Gendy, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app. As of today, authorities have not disclosed her whereabouts or any charges against her, el-Gendy said.

“Egyptian authorities must immediately release Shimaa Samy and Sameh Haneen, or at the very least disclose where Samy is being detained and why,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Senior Researcher Justin Shilad. “Given the continued threat of COVID-19 in Egyptian prisons, it is unconscionable for security services to capriciously detain journalists.”

Haneen covers issues related to the Coptic Orthodox minority in Egypt, recently wrote for the news website al-Badil, and co-founded Qoll, a now-defunct blog, according to Karim Abdelrady, a local human rights lawyer who knows the journalist personally, and who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.

On May 22, the Ministry of Interior published a video of Haneen confessing that he received thousands of dollars for producing videos critical of Egyptian state institutions for Qatari broadcaster Al-Jazeera, allegedly at the request of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to a report by Al-Ahram, a state-owned newspaper.

El-Gendy and Abdelrady, both of whom are familiar with Haneen’s work, told CPJ that they believed his confession was forced.

Samy most recently contributed to the blocked news website Darb on April 28, where she criticized the government’s pre-trial detention of political prisoners, including journalist Alaa Abdelfattah. She also contributed to the now-defunct blog Fakr Tany, according to el-Gendy.

CPJ emailed Al-Jazeera and the Egyptian Ministry of Interior for comment, but did not immediately receive any replies.

On May 17, Egyptian authorities arrested Mada Masr editor-in-chief Lina Attalah outside of Tora prison while she was attempting to interview the Abdelfattah’s mother, as CPJ documented at the time. She was released on bail several hours after the arrest, according to Mada Masr.