Abuhaj, a videographer, was arrested at his day job at a tax agency in the city of Arish in northern Sinai and charged with inciting violence, participating in demonstrations, and using arms against police, among other crimes, according to news reports and local journalist unions.
Abdel Qader Mubarak, head of the Federation of Journalists and Reporters in Sinai, told CPJ in 2015 that he believed Abuhaj could have been targeted because of his coverage of Muslim Brotherhood meetings and protests in northern Sinai. The Egyptian government has declared the Muslim Brotherhood an illegal organization.
In a statement by the federation, Abuhaj’s lawyer, Saeed al-Kassas, said that the accusations against the journalist were based on a leaflet bearing Muslim Brotherhood slogans that police found with Abuhaj. The prosecution was also relying on video footage showing Abuhaj at a Muslim Brotherhood demonstration. Abuhaj told prosecutors that he was using the leaflet as part of his coverage of protests, and that he attended demonstrations as part of his work as a journalist, the federation told CPJ. The lawyer said there was no proof that Abuhaj had participated in any violent activity, according to the federation’s statement.
Abuhaj worked for the Sinai Media Center, which is made up of a group of journalists who post news items, videos, and photos online, and feed information to other news outlets. Abuhaj’s work, including his coverage of terrorist attacks, was also published by the Rassd Sinai News Network. Abuhaj covered demonstrations, deadly clashes, and the destruction of government buildings that occurred as part of the conflict between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and government forces after the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. Abuhaj also covered socioeconomic issues such as fuel shortages in northern Sinai.
Terrorist attacks and fighting between state forces and militant groups have made Sinai more dangerous and restrictive to reporters in recent years. Journalists face threats from violent anti-government groups as well as state security forces, Mubarak said.
On November 17, 2013, a court in Arish ordered Abuhaj placed in pretrial detention, according to news reports. His pretrial detention has been periodically renewed, but no trial date had been set in late 2015, Mubarak said. Although CPJ was not able to determine the status of Abuhaj’s case or his specific whereabouts in late 2016, his name continues to appear on lists of imprisoned journalists published by regional groups.
Mubarak told CPJ in late 2015 that Abuhaj was being held in Arish Central Prison. He suffers from a problem with his spine and receives medication sent by his family, according to Mubarak.