Hisham Fouad Mohamed AbdelHalim, a columnist and member of the Syndicate of Journalists, was arrested in 2019 and in 2021 was sentenced to four years in prison for allegedly spreading false news in Egypt and abroad.
Fouad is a press freedom advocate who also covers workers’ rights for the Egyptian news websites Mada Masr, where he is a freelance columnist, and Masr al-Arabeya. The journalist is also a member of the left-leaning Socialist Revolutionary movement and reports for the Russian news agency Sputnik, according to the privately owned news website Noon.
Police arrested Fouad at his Cairo home at dawn on June 25, 2019, and took him to an unknown destination on the same day that authorities arrested journalist Hossam Moanis, according to local news reports. An Interior Ministry statement, published later that day by the state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram, said that Fouad was arrested for “communicating with the leaders of the banned terrorist group the Muslim Brotherhood” and “fleeing abroad to implement a plan they called “Hope Plan.” The statement described “Hope Plan” as an attempt to overthrow the state and its institutions ahead of the June 30 anniversary of the uprising that toppled the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013. Authorities arrested dozens of dissidents on June 25 for alleged involvement in the plan, according to local news reports.
Hours after his arrest, Fouad was brought before the state security prosecutor for questioning on charges of involvement with a terrorist group and publishing false news, according to local news reports. The Ministry of Interior statement mentioned charges of false news but did not cite specific articles of Fouad’s.
On July 2, 2019, the state security prosecutor issued an order freezing the assets of, and banning from travel, Fouad, Moanis, and over 80 others accused of being part of “Hope Plan,” according to a letter that Amnesty International addressed to the Office of Public Prosecutor. On August 4, a judge upheld the decision, according to local news reports.
At a hearing on August 21, 2019 Fouad said he believed he was being punished because of his political writing and membership in the journalists’ syndicate, according to a Facebook post advocating on his behalf under the name Free Hisham Fouad.
After Fouad’s arrest, state prosecutors repeatedly renewed his pretrial detention according to a colleague who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.
On November 17, 2021, the Misdemeanors State Security Emergency Court in Cairo sentenced Fouad to four years in prison and fined him 500 Egyptian pounds (US$30) for allegedly spreading false news in Egypt and abroad, according to news reports. The verdict cannot be appealed, according to news reports.
Fouad still faces anti-state charges for which he has not yet been tried, according to news reports and a press freedom advocate who is familiar with the case and spoke to CPJ via messaging app on the condition of anonymity citing fear of reprisal. Anti-state convictions in Egypt can carry a range of sentences depending on the ruling, including life in prison and even death, according to the Egyptian penal code.
According to a July 13, 2019 letter by Fouad’s wife, Madeeha Hassan, published by the Free Hisham Fouad Facebook group, the prison did not deliver supplies and food that Hassan had sent to her husband. Fouad was also held in poor conditions, along with his colleague Moanis and the former parliamentarian el-Elaimy, according to a July 9, 2019 Facebook statement by Ekram Yousef, the mother of el-Elaimy. Yousef said that for the first 14 days of their detention authorities prevented them from going out or exercising; the prisoners slept on wooden boards, without mattresses or pillows. As of late 2021 these conditions had not changed, Yousef told CPJ via messaging app.
Between March and August of 2020 visitors were barred from prisons by an interior ministry order to stop the spread of COVID-19, according to news reports. On September 17, 2020, Fouad’s wife, Madeeha Hassan, visited him in prison for the first time since the ban was imposed, and recently on August 7, according to Fouad’s colleague, and a statement by Hassan on the Free Hisham Fouad Facebook group.
Fouad started a hunger strike to protest his detention on July 11, 2021, which lasted 12 days, according to Fouad’s colleague, and a post by Mada Masr on Facebook. Prior to the strike, the journalist was suffering from a stomach ulcer, an anal fissure, and a herniated disc, and the strike left him weak; he has not received medical treatment for these conditions in prison, according to a statement by Hassan published on the Free Hisham Fouad Facebook group, news reports, and a local journalist and press freedom advocate in touch with the journalist’s family who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
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 Fouad’s case in September 2021.