A police officer is seen at Tora Prison in Cairo, Egypt, on February 11, 2020. Columnist Gamal al-Gamal is being held at the prison following his arrest. (AFP/Khaled Desouki)

Egyptian columnist Gamal al-Gamal arrested, charged with terrorism, false news

New York, March 1, 2021 – Egyptian authorities must immediately release journalist Gamal al-Gamal and drop all charges against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On February 22, authorities arrested al-Gamal, a freelance columnist who contributes to local and regional news websites, in Cairo International Airport upon his return from Turkey, where he had lived since 2017, according to Arabi21, where he recently published columns, and news reports.

On February 27, the state prosecutor’s office charged al-Gamal with spreading false news, joining a terrorist organization, and inciting public opinion against state institutions, and ordered him to be held in pretrial detention pending an investigation into unspecified crimes he allegedly committed in 2017, according to news reports.

He is being held in Cairo’s Tora Prison, according to a local press freedom advocate who is following the case and spoke with CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.

“Arresting journalist Gamal al-Gamal and hitting him with anti-state and terrorism charges upon his return home for the first time in years is simply cruel,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Egyptian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release al-Gamal, drop all charges against him, and let him work freely.”

Al-Gamal has contributed to outlets including independent Egyptian newspapers Al-Masry al-Youm, Al-Karama, and Al-Tahrir, the news website Masr al-Arabia, and regional news websites Al-Jazeera Mubasher and Arabi21, according to CPJ’s review of his work and news reports. Most of al-Gamal’s work is critical of the Egyptian government and President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s policies. While authorities have not disclosed the exact reason for the journalist’s arrest, local journalists said it was likely due to his critical writings, according to news reports.

Several local journalists and press freedom advocates including Gamal Sultan, Haytham Abokhalil and Wael Kandil, have expressed their solidarity with al-Gamal on social media.

In September 2014, President al-Sisi called al-Gamal while he was working at the Al-Tahrir newspaper, to justify some of his policies that al-Gamal criticized in his articles, according to news reports from the time. In April 2017, Al-Masry al-Youm ceased the publication of al-Gamal’s column after he tried publishing an article the newspaper deemed too critical of the president, according to news reports.

CPJ emailed the Egyptian Interior and Justice Ministries for comment, but did not receive any responses.

As of December 1, 2020, there were 27 journalists imprisoned in Egypt for their work, according to CPJ’s prison census.