Photojournalist Hamdy Mokhtar was arrested on September 26, 2016 along with photojournalists Mohamed Hassan and Osama al-Bishbishi, while filming near the Journalists’ Syndicate in downtown Cairo, according to news reports and local press freedom organizations.
Each of the three journalists works with a different privately owned outlet, but the trio was arrested together while interviewing passersby for their opinions on a recent initiative by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi encouraging Egyptians to donate their spare change in order to fund national projects, an initiative that sparked ridicule on social media.
Security forces arrested them on the spot, without stating any clear reason, according to a statement published by news website al-Naba’a, Hassan’s employer. Al-Bishbishi is a photographer and cameraman with the news website Baladi. Mokhtar is a freelance photographer who works with the newspaper el-Shaab el-Jadeed, which is generally supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership ousted in 2013.
The three journalists were questioned by prosecutors and officers from Egypt’s domestic intelligence agency throughout the night of September 27, lawyers Fatema Serag and Nourhan Hassan, who is the photojournalist Hassan’s sister, told the Egyptian press freedom group Journalists Against Torture Observatory. The next morning, prosecutors charged all three with belonging to a banned organization, inciting violence and terrorism online, and publishing false news. Prosecutors ordered them held in pretrial detention for a renewable period.
After being held in Kasr el Nil police station near downtown Cairo for nearly a month, the three journalists were transferred to Tora Istiqbal prison on October 29, 2016, according to their lawyers.
On February 20, 2017 the journalists appeared in front of a judge for the first time since their arrest, according to the Journalists Against Torture Observatory.
On March 19, a Giza court ordered that the journalists be released without trial on condition they check in weekly with police, according to the same press freedom group, which cited their lawyer. Prosecutors appealed the ruling and the journalists remained in custody.
Hassan’s lawyer appealed the prosecution’s decision, but the appeal was rejected, according to Journalists Against Torture Observatory.
Their detention has been renewed every 45 days and no trial date was set by late 2017, according to Journalists Against Torture Observatory.
The lawyer, Hassan, said in her press statement that all three journalists said they had been beaten, kicked, and given electric shocks in custody. She said that Mokhtar had shown the worst signs of physical abuse, with visible bruises to his neck and back.
As of December 1, 2017, Egypt’s Ministry of Interior, which has oversight of the police and prison system, did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment about claims of jailed journalists being mistreated.
Mokhtar has been arrested previously. The journalist was arrested in July 2015 while at the state morgue covering the arrival of bodies of Muslim Brotherhood members who were allegedly killed by security forces. He was released on bail two months later, according to Journalists Against Torture Observatory. In January 2016, a court sentenced him in absentia to three years in prison for publishing false news. Sentences issued in absentia are automatically retried. CPJ was unable to determine the status of Mokhtar’s retrial in that case in late 2017.
In an open letter that he wrote from prison in July 2017, the journalist said that he lacks basic rights in custody. “We used to joke about the ‘possession of a camera’ being a crime. Now it’s the reality I live,” Mokhtar wrote.
On January 12, 2017, when the journalist heard from his wife that his case was transferred to the Homeland Security prosecutors, he dropped unconscious, Journalists Against Torture Observatory reported. His wife told the press freedom group that he suffered from a stroke and lost his ability to talk or move. Mokhtar was transferred to the prison hospital for three days, according to the same group. He has regained his movement and speech.
In February 2017, the journalist was diagnosed with diabetes after suffering complications to a wound in his foot, but prosecutors denied his requests to be sent to a hospital, according to Journalists Against Torture Observatory.
The journalist also suffers from a slipped disk and back problems from sleeping on the prison floor, Journalists Against Torture Observatory reported in July 2017, citing his lawyer. The lawyer did not receive a response to his requests to transfer the journalist to the prison hospital, according to the same group.