Freelance journalist Hassan al-Kabbani was taken into custody on September 18, 2019, after presenting himself at the national security headquarters in Sheikh Zayed, a city in Giza, as part of the conditions of his probation from a previous arrest. Held in pretrial detention in Cairo’s Tora Prison complex, he faces charges of spreading false news and misusing social media.
This arrest came ahead of protests that were due to take place in several cities on September 19 over corruption in the army and that included calls for President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to resign, according to news reports.
Al-Kabbani, who reports for several outlets, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Gate and Rassd, is also a press freedom advocate and blogger who co-founded the Journalists for Reform movement in 2007. The movement, which identifies itself as a press freedom group, took a stand against the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, and is critical of the current administration. Months before al-Kabbani was arrested in 2015, he wrote several articles in which he criticized the military-led government for ousting Morsi. Writing in Freedom and Justice Gate, he expressed support for a popular uprising. (As of late 2020, CPJ was unable to access Al-Kabbani’s commentary on this topic in the U.S. or Egypt.)
In 2015, security agents in plainclothes arrested al-Kabbani at his home in the 6th of October neighborhood in Cairo and took him to the local national security headquarters, according to news reports and human rights groups. Al-Kabbani’s wife said she and her brothers were also detained for one day and that al-Kabbani was abused in custody.
Al-Kabbani was charged with espionage, damaging Egypt’s standing abroad, joining an illegal group, and disseminating false information to disturb public security and peace, among other charges, according to news reports. Prior to his arrest, his house was raided twice by police while he was out, according to the reports.
On November 30, 2017, Egyptian authorities released al-Kabbani from prison pending the conclusion of the investigation and on condition that he present himself at a police station several times a week, according to Al-Jazeera. According to a family member who spoke with CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal, al-Kabbani resumed his journalistic activity after his 2017 release, but the family member did not provide further details.
As of late 2020, al-Kabbani was in the Tora Prison Complex in Cairo; he faces charges of spreading false news and misusing social media, according to the family member. The family member said that these charges are not related to his previous charges, which are still pending. The family member did not know precisely what activity led to the new charges.
Prosecutors have repeatedly extended al-Kabbani’s pretrial detention period by 45 days, according to the family member.
A few months before his 2019 arrest, authorities arrested the journalist’s wife, Aya Alaa Hosny, who had called on social media for her husband’s release during his previous incarceration, members of the local press freedom group the Egyptian Observatory for Journalism and Media, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, told CPJ. Hosny was released on December 24, 2019, according to news reports.
On March 10, 2020, the Ministry of Interior banned visitors, including family members and lawyers, from entering prisons as a precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19; since August 22, visitors have been allowed on a limited basis, according to news reports.
On August 26, al-Kabbani’s wife visited her husband for the first time since the ban was imposed, according to the family member who spoke to CPJ. Hosny reported that al-Kabbani had no health issues, the same family member said.
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-Kabbani in September 2020.