Mahmoud Hussein Gomaa, an Egyptian reporter who had been based in Qatar, has been detained since December 2016. A court in May 2019 ordered his release, but before he could walk free he was ordered back into pretrial detention as part of a new investigation.
Egypt’s Interior Ministry confirmed in a December 25, 2016, statement published on its website that Gomaa was being held on charges of “incitement against state institutions and broadcasting false news with the aim of spreading chaos,” according to news reports. The ministry said that Gomaa worked with Al-Jazeera to produce fake documentaries about the country’s institutions. Authorities ordered him to initially be detained for 15 days pending investigation, Al-Jazeera reported. In a statement on its website, Al-Jazeera described the charges against Gomaa as fabricated and said that it was concerned for his safety.
The arrest came after Al-Jazeera broadcast a documentary, "Al-Asaker" (“The Soldiers”), in November 2016, about conscription in Egypt. The documentary was criticized in Egypt by government officials and local media, who said that it attempted to incite against the armed forces and alleged that it used fake footage.
On December 25, 2016, pro-government and state-run media broadcast police videos of Gomaa that they described as confessions. A narrator in one of the interviews, which were filmed in several locations, claimed that the videos showed evidence against Gomaa. Two of the videos showed him standing by production equipment that he said Al-Jazeera asked him to keep in his family’s homes after the broadcaster was forced to close its Egyptian office in 2013.
The journalist’s detention was repeatedly renewed every 45 days, according to news reports and a social media post from former Al-Jazeera director Yasser Abu Hilalah. Some pro-government media in Egypt say that under the law, national security prosecutors can repeatedly renew detention periods until a trial begins.
On May 21, 2019, a Cairo criminal court ordered Gomaa to be released on probation, according to Al-Jazeera and the Arab Media Freedom Monitor. On May 27, while his release was being processed, and in the absence of his lawyer, authorities took Gomaa back to Tora Prison, according to Al-Jazeera and the Arab Media Freedom Monitor. He was detained as part of a new investigation and charged with membership of a banned group and spreading false news, according to news reports. Also in May 2019, prosecutors added a new charge of communicating with a terrorist group from inside the prison, according to Gomaa’s daughter, al-Zahraa Gomaa, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app, and reports.
Since August 5, 2019, Cairo’s Prosecutor Office has repeatedly extended Gomaa’s pretrial detention period by 15 days, according to the local press freedom group the Egyptian Observatory for Journalism and Media. On August 8, 2020 Gomaa had an in-person hearing during which prosecutors again extended his detention, this time by 45 days, according to news reports.
According to al-Zahraa Gomaa, in mid-September in 2019, prison authorities denied Gomaa’s request for a furlough to visit his dying father. On November 13, 2019, the Ministry of Interior granted Gomaa a furlough to attend his father’s funeral, 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 23, al-Zahraa Gomaa’s sister visited their father for the first time since the ban was imposed and found that the journalist was suffering from high blood pressure, al-Zahraa Gomaa told CPJ. The journalist told his daughter that he is receiving medical treatment, but that the drugs are ineffective, and he’s feeling worse, al-Zahraa Gomaa said.
Al-Zahraa Gomaa also said that her father continues to feel pain from a past wrist injury that he said was never properly cared for in prison. In October 2017 the journalist’s daughter Aya Mahmoud told CPJ that prison authorities had denied the journalist treatment for a fractured wrist.
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 Gomaa’s case in September 2020.