Hamdi Mokhtar (Hamdi al-Zaeem)

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Egyptian authorities arrested photojournalist Hamdi al-Zaeem in January 2021 and charged him with anti-state and false news charges, which a family member believes are linked to a 2016 arrest that occurred while he was reporting. 

Al-Zaeem, whose legal name is Hamdi Mokhtar, is a freelance photojournalist and producer who has contributed to local independent news websites Al-Nabaa, Baladna al-Youm, Al-Hayah, and Baladi al-Ikhbareya—the latter two of which have since closed—where he covered political and human interest stories, according to the journalist’s family member, who spoke with CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.

On January 4, 2021, state security officers arrested al-Zaeem in a raid on his Cairo home, according to the family member and news reports

On January 16, 2021, the state prosecutor’s office charged al-Zaeem with spreading false news, misusing social media, and joining a terrorist organization and ordered his detention for 15 days pending trial, according to those reports. 

Al-Zaeem was previously arrested on September 26, 2016, when state security officers took him into custody while he was filming a documentary for Al-Hayahabout high school students cheating during final exams, according to the family member. The following day, prosecutors charged him with spreading false news, belonging to a terrorist group, harming national unity, and inciting a protest without a permit, according to the family member and a report by local rights group Freedom of Thought and Expression Law Firm.

Following al-Zaeem’s 2016 arrest, state security officers raided and searched his home and confiscated his laptop, two cameras, two phones, a first aid kit, and some books, according to the family member.

On June 23, 2018, al-Zaeem was released from pretrial detention on the condition that he report to a police station three times per week but his charges remained outstanding. 

After he was released in 2018, al-Zaeem did not work in journalism and did not maintain any social media accounts, the family member told CPJ, adding that the 2021 arrest and charges were likely related to the 2016 case. 

Al-Zaeem’s family member told CPJ that the journalist was held in Tora Prison in Cairo until December 27, 2021, when he was transferred to Abu Zaabal Prison in al-Qalyubia governorate north of Cairo. 

In 2021, 2022, and 2023, authorities extended his detention pending investigation multiple times; he has now exceeded the maximum two-year period allowable in pretrial detention. 

On November 5, his daughter called for his release, 34 months after his detention.

Al-Zaeem has diabetes, high blood pressure, and a herniated disc, and he has been receiving medical care in prison, according to the family member. 

The Ministry of Interior, which oversees the police, the prison system, and the prosecutor general’s office did not answer CPJ’s emails requesting comment on al-Zaeem in late 2023.