Egyptian journalist Mostafa Sakr is one of several journalists who were arrested this year who reported on the impact of the COVID-19 virus on Egypt.
Sakr is publisher of the English language Daily News Egypt and the Arabic language Al-Borsa, and the owner of Business News for Press, the papers’ parent company. Both papers cover local and global politics, business, and economic issues, according to news reports. Sakr was the editor-in-chief of Al-Borsa from 2008 until 2017, according to the local rights group Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression and news reports.
On April 21, officers in Cairo arrested Sakr; prosecutors immediately charged him with joining a terrorist organization and ordered his detention for 15 days pending an investigation, according to news reports.
Middle East Eye cited sources who said Sakr’s arrest came after the publication of a March 16 report in Al-Borsa, criticizing the policies of Egypt’s central bank in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Egyptian authorities previously targeted Sakr and his publications. In December 2016, authorities froze Sakr’s assets as well as those belonging to Al-Borsa and Daily News Egypt on the basis of allegations that Sakr was affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, according to news reports. The same month, authorities assigned the state-run newspaper, Akhbar El-Yom, to run Al-Borsa and Daily News Egypt, as part of governmental efforts to control the assets of the banned Muslim Brotherhood group, according to those reports. Sakr formally remained as publisher, but was stripped of his administrative and business duties, which were taken over by the state-run outlet, according to an Egyptian press freedom advocate who spoke with CPJ on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. Sakr is still the owner of the outlets’ parent company Business News for Press, though does not control its assets, said the press freedom advocate.
In January 2017, authorities listed Sakr on the country’s “terrorism list,” according to news reports. Under Egypt’s 2015 counterterrorism law, individuals on the “terrorism list” are barred from travelling, renewing passports, and working in the public sector for five years. They are also subject to an asset freeze.
In May 2017, police raided the offices of Al-Borsa and Daily News Egypt and briefly detained Sakr, according to news reports. During the raid, the police confiscated a dozen computers claiming that they ran pirated computer software, according to news reports. In the same month, authorities blocked access to Daily News Egypt and Al-Borsa’s websites; the two websites are still blocked in Egypt and use mirror websites to publish their content, according to those reports. As of September 2020, CPJ was not able to access either website in Cairo.
Prosecutors have repeatedly renewed Sakr’s pretrial detention by 15 days, including on September 6, according to the local rights group the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression.
Sakr is held in the Tora Prison Complex in Cairo, according to the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression’s researcher who spoke with CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal. Sakr needs to undergo surgery to treat hemorrhoids but prison authorities have denied him treatment, according to the same researcher.
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 Sakr in September 2020.