Freelance journalist and researcher Ismail Alexandrani is serving a 10-year sentence after a military court convicted him of obtaining and publishing military secrets, joining a banned group, and spreading false news abroad. As of September 2021, no evidence had been presented in court to support Alexandrani’s conviction.
Alexandrani, whose work focuses on the Sinai Peninsula and Islamist movements in Egypt, was arrested at Hurghada airport upon his return from Berlin, on November 29, 2015, according to news reports. He was questioned by national security agents in Hurghada before being transferred to Cairo two days later, his wife, Khadeega Gaafar, told CPJ.
On December 1 and 7, 2015, homeland security prosecutors questioned Alexandrani for more than nine hours and charged him with belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood group, promoting the purposes of that group, and intentionally disseminating false information, according to local rights groups and statements made by Alexandrani’s lawyers, who were present for the questioning.
The journalist was interrogated again by national security officers inside Tora prison later in December 2015.
Alexandrani was held in pretrial detention that prosecutors repeatedly renewed until he was referred to military prosecution in December 2017, according to his lawyer Mokhtar Mounir, the independent news website Mada Masr, and local rights group Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression.
Tarek Abdel Aal, a lawyer representing Alexandrani, told Mada Masr on May 22, 2018, that a military court convicted Alexandrani of obtaining and publishing military secrets, joining a banned organization, and publishing false news abroad, and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. The court did not present evidence backing the charges, according to Abdel Aal.
On May 23, 2018, army spokesperson Tamer El Rafai was quoted in news reports saying that Alexandrani’s case was still “under investigation.” In Egypt, a military court needs to ratify a sentence before it is considered valid.
Abdel Aal told Mada Masr on September 23, 2018, that they are in a legal maze. "So far we do not know the verdict. It has not been ratified. This, of course, prevents us from appealing.” Under military courts, no maximum time limit is set for verdicts to be ratified, he said.
As of September 2021, the military court had not ratified the sentence, which is required to file an appeal in this case, according to a friend of Alexandrani who spoke to CPJ via messaging app on the condition of anonymity citing fear of reprisal.
Alexandrani has written critically of the Egyptian military’s efforts to combat extremist militias in the Sinai Peninsula, including for independent newspapers Al-Safir and Al-Modon, both based in Lebanon. He has also written for the Egyptian newspaper Al-Badil. Government censorship and intimidation has resulted in scarce independent reporting about fighting in the peninsula and its toll on the civilian population.
Alexandrani was a visiting fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Middle East Program in Washington, D.C in the spring of 2015. After leaving the U.S., he moved to Turkey and gave several talks in Berlin and other European cities. The journalist knew he risked arrest for his writing upon returning to Egypt, but was compelled to return for a family emergency, according to a statement by one of his friends on Facebook, which as of late 2021 appears to have been removed.
On May 18, 2021, prison authorities denied Alexandrani furlough to attend his mother’s funeral, according to Alexandrani’s friend. According to a family member who spoke to CPJ via messaging app on the condition of anonymity, the journalist started to suffer from depression and diabetes after his mother’s death.
The journalist had no court hearings in 2021, and he is detained in Tora prison, the family member told CPJ in 2021, adding that they are allowed to visit him on a monthly basis.
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 about Alexandrani’s case in September 2021.