Hassan al-Banna, an intern at the pro-government newspaper Al Shorouk Daily, and his friend, Mostafa al-Aasar, a freelancer for the regional newspapers Al-Quds and Al-Arabi, have been detained since February 2018. Authorities have repeatedly renewed their pretrial detention.
Police in Giza arrested al-Banna and al-Aasar while they were on their way to work on February 4, 2018, according to the regional press freedom group, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and news reports.
Cairo’s national security prosecutor charged the journalists with "membership of a banned group" and spreading false news, according to the organization, Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE.) The prosecutor did not cite any specific articles or content as evidence.
During the investigation, al-Banna denied the charges, Al-Shourouk reported. He told the national security prosecutor that he was asked by a police officer about his work as a journalist. The officer confiscated his laptop and a flash storage drive that he had on him, the outlet said.
Al-Banna’s mother, Sohier Youssef Abdel Ghaffar, told the Al-Jazeera Mubasher channel on February 17, 2018, that her son denied the charges and said that he was just an intern who has no political affiliations. She said that he happened to be friends with, and lived at the same apartment as, al-Aasari.
Al-Banna was one of several journalists arrested as part of a larger trial known as case 441, in which dozens of defendants face charges of spreading false news and being a member of a banned group. The trial came as Egypt’s crackdown on the press deepened in 2018; authorities ratcheted up their rhetoric against media outlets as President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ran for and won re-election.
The Cairo criminal court in 2019 repeatedly extended al-Banna’s detention by 45 days, including on September 11, according to the local rights group, Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, and a researcher from the Egyptian Observatory for Journalism and Media, who spoke with CPJ on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
Al-Banna has a stomach infection that could result in cancer if left untreated, his brother, Abdelrahman Fares, told CPJ. The journalist also has severe joint pain from sleeping on the floor, asthma, and an anal fissure, the brother said. Prison authorities have denied the journalist’s request to see an external doctor or attend a hospital, according to Fares.
As of late 2019, the Ministry of Interior, which has oversight of the police and prison system, and the prosecutor general’s office had not answered CPJ’s emails requesting comment.
Both journalists are detained in Cairo’s Tora prison.