Moataz Wadnan, a reporter for HuffPost Arabi, has been in custody since February 2018, on charges of joining a banned group and spreading false news; in 2020 prosecutors added charges of inciting terrorist crimes from inside prison. The journalist’s pretrial detention period has been repeatedly renewed, and his family said on social media that authorities beat and tortured Wadnan.
Police arrested Wadnan on February 16, 2018, a few days after he interviewed Hisham Geneina, who was part of an opposition candidate’s team in the presidential elections, according to news reports. Geneina was later taken into custody, according to news reports.
In the February 12 interview, which CPJ reviewed before it was became unavailable on YouTube, Geneina said documents and evidence were available that would change the course of politically motivated trials and reveal those responsible for the major crises in Egypt since the 2011 uprising.
A national security prosecutor on March 5, 2018 ordered Wadnan to be detained in Tora prison on charges of joining a banned group and spreading false news, according to his employer and the Arab Network of Human Rights Information (ANHRI).
On August 28, 2018 ANHRI published a profile of the journalist that said Wadnan felt threatened by Egypt’s security apparatus after Geneina’s arrest and had asked for support from the Journalists’ Syndicate.
Wadnan is one of several journalists arrested as part of mass trial known as case 441, in which all the defendants are accused of spreading false news and "membership in a banned group." The trial came as Egypt’s crackdown on the press deepened in 2018; authorities ratcheted their rhetoric against media outlets as President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ran for and won re-election.
Wadnan had court appearances in January 8, February 23, April 9, June 18, August 5, and October 7, 2019, according to the Free Moataz Wadnan group and Wadnan’s sister Nada Shams el-Deen’s Facebook page, his wife Hala Abdelaal’s Facebook page, and the press freedom group Egyptian Observatory for Journalism and Media (EOJM). During these sessions, prosecutors repeatedly extended Wadnan’s pretrial detention period by 45 days, according to Abdelaal and EOJM.
At the June 18, 2019, hearing, the judge refused to listen to the journalist’s testimony, according to Alaraby and EOJM.
Wadnan’s lawyer, Amr Mohamed, told local media in 2018 that the journalist’s health deteriorated and that he lost weight after waging a hunger strike to protest lack of access to visitors and medical treatment in the Scorpion prison’s maximum-security jail. His sister was cited in reports saying that the journalist had knee pain after being kept in solitary confinement, without access to exercise or sunlight. His lawyer added that the journalist struggled to walk to the investigation room with the prosecutor after losing so much weight during his hunger strike.
In February 2019, Wadnan again went on hunger strike and when he refused the prison’s administration’s order to break his strike on April 21, they tortured him, according to Shams el-Deen, Al-Jazeera and Alaraby. His wife wrote on Facebook that the journalist was beaten, given electric shocks, and was not allowed to shower or change his clothes. CPJ could not independently confirm the allegations of abuse.
Wadnan entered solitary confinement in February 2018 and as of late 2020 he is still there, Shams el-Deen told CPJ.
On January 26, 2019, Wadnan’s family received a court order granting visitation rights, according to Alaraby. Until his wife obtained a permit on July 2, 2019 the family was able to see Wadnan only during court appearances, the report said.
On July 29, 2019, Wadnan’s wife was able to visit her husband for the first time, according to a post on Facebook, in which she shared an image of the permit.
On May 7, 2020, prosecutors ordered Wadnan’s release, but before the journalist was let go, on May 9, prosecutors reversed course and ordered Wadnan’s continued detention in light of a new investigation into charges of inciting terrorism crimes from inside prison, according to news reports.
On March 10, 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, Shams el-Deen visited her brother for the first time since the ban was imposed, she told CPJ. She said that his health has improved in spite of the fact that he’s still held in isolation and that he is fine now.
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 Wadnan in September 2020.