A security forces officer is seen in Cairo, Egypt, on August 11, 2020. Security forces recently arrested journalist Islam al-Kalhy in Giza. (Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

Egyptian journalist Islam al-Kalhy detained, charged with spreading false news

New York, September 14, 2020 – Egyptian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release journalist Islam al-Kalhy and stop arresting members of the press covering protests, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On September 9, Egyptian security forces arrested al-Kalhy, a reporter for the local independent news website Darb, while he was covering protests in the al-Monib neighborhood of Giza, according to a statement by his employer and news reports. The following day, the state prosecutor’s office charged him with spreading false news and joining a banned group, and ordered him to be detained for 15 days pending an investigation, according to those reports.

Al-Kalhy’s employer had assigned him to cover protests in al-Monib that began after a young man, Islam al-Australi, died in police custody, according to Darb.

“The charges against Egyptian journalist Islam al-Kalhy are pure and simple retaliation for covering news that the government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is desperate to suppress,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Authorities must immediately and unconditionally release al-Kalhy and all journalists in jail, and allow the press to work without fear of imprisonment.”

Authorities blocked Darb’s website on April 9, just one month after the outlet launched, without giving any reason for the move,  as CPJ documented at the time. Two journalists in Egypt, each using different internet providers, told CPJ today they could not access Darb without using virtual private network software. Those journalists spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal. CPJ was able to access the website from the United States.

CPJ emailed the Ministry of Interior for comment but did not receive an immediate response.

Last month, Egyptian authorities detained journalists Hany Greisha and El-Sayed Shehta, who is sick with COVID-19, as CPJ documented. Griesha and Shehta remain in police custody, according to the journalists who spoke to CPJ.

At the time of CPJ’s 2019 prison census, at least 26 journalists were held in custody for their work; many had been charged with crimes, but not convicted or sentenced to jail time. Egypt often holds journalists in pretrial detention for extended periods of time, a trend that has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic, as court activity has slowed even further, according to CPJ research.