National security agents raided the offices of the Mada Foundation for Media Development in the Cairo suburb of 6th of October, and arrested its director, Hisham Jaafar, on October 21, 2015. Staff members at the foundation, who spoke with CPJ on the condition of anonymity, said the agents were masked and armed. The agents detained staff members at the offices for several hours. Human rights lawyers, among them lawyers for the regional rights group the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, were not permitted to enter the offices, according to news reports.
Security forces permitted all staff to leave that evening, but closed the foundation’s office, which remained shuttered in late 2018, staff members said.
After Jaafar’s arrest, several agents raided his home, which is within walking distance of the foundation’s office, according to accounts from his wife and son on social media and in news reports.
Security agents took Jaafar to an unknown location after his arrest, according to news reports. Three days later, his lawyers were told he was being held in Cairo’s Tora prison and had been questioned by national security prosecutors, Khaled el-Balshy, a member of the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate, told CPJ.
The journalist was charged with belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood group and receiving bribes from foreign sources, according to his colleagues.
Jaafar is the former editor-in-chief of the popular website IslamOnline, which covered news and religious and social issues. He founded the Mada Foundation for Media Development in 2010 along with other several former IslamOnline staff members. The foundation provided training and support for local journalists and served as a hub for research projects on social issues, such as women’s rights and religious dialogue. It also launched the website OnIslam, which covers news as well as features on lifestyle, health, and Islamic spirituality.
Several of the foundation’s employees received threats from security forces and some have left the country for fear of arrest, according to employees with whom CPJ spoke.
The Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate, along with several prominent Egyptian journalists and academics, have described Jaafar as an independent journalist and researcher with no political affiliations. Former colleagues at IslamOnline and staff at the Mada Foundation told CPJ that he had been working on investigative reports about parliamentary reform and a research project on national dialogue before his arrest.
In May 2017, a Cairo criminal court listed Jaafar on the country’s terrorism list, according to news reports. Under Egypt’s counterterrorism law, approved by President el-Sisi in August 2015, individuals on the terrorism list are banned for five years from travelling, renewing passports, and working in the public sector. They are also subject to an asset freeze.
Jaafar’s wife, Manar al-Tantawie, told CPJ that the journalist has an enlarged prostate and damage to a nerve in one eye. He is being held at Scorpion Prison in Cairo’s Tora prison complex, where he is offered minimal health care, she said. Individuals in pretrial detention are not supposed to be held in maximum security prisons, according to the journalist’s lawyer.
The lawyer’s repeated requests for him to be released on medical grounds were all denied. After the president declared a state of emergency on April 9, 2017, no visitors were allowed in Scorpion Prison until late September, according to al-Tantawie and news reports.
On September 12, 2017, prison guards attacked Jaafar and beat him, according to a message Jaafar sent to his wife via an inmate who was in court for a hearing. His wife did not provide further details.
As of late 2018, Egypt’s Ministry of Interior, which has oversight of the police and prison system, had not responded to CPJ’s emailed request for comment about claims of jailed journalists being mistreated.
Authorities have repeatedly renewed Jaafar’s 15-day pretrial detention period, his lawyer told local media. The maximum time Egyptian law allows for someone to be held in pretrial detention is two years.
An October 2018 statement from a local press freedom group, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), said Jaafar has spent three years without trial, his family has been denied visits, and his lawyer was denied access to his case file.
His wife, al-Tantawie, told local media in September 2018 that prison authorities have barred her from visiting Jaafar since December 2017. In June 2018 she told media outlets and local human rights groups, including the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, that authorities banned her from traveling to Kuwait to visit her son and confiscated her passport at Cairo airport, without giving any reason.
At a November 13, 2018 hearing on whether Jaafar’s detention period should be renewed, his lawyer Mohamed Al-Baker asked the court why no progress had been made in the investigation that started in 2015 and pointed out that no evidence had been presented to justify the journalist’s detention, according to Mada Masr. Judge Hussein Kandil then recused himself from overseeing Jaafar’s case and referred it to a different court, the report said.