Police arrested photojournalist Zeinab Abu Ouna, a photojournalist for Al-Watan, on August 17, 2018, at Cairo’s international airport as she was about to board a flight to Lebanon to attend a photography workshop, her lawyer Fatma Serag told Mada Masr.
A Cairo national security prosecutor ordered Ouna’s pretrial detention on charges of spreading false news and “membership of a banned group,” according to the organizations Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) and Arab Network of Human Rights Information (ANHRI), and news reports. Ouna denied the charges, according to news reports. The prosecutor did not cite any specific photo or content as reason for the charges.
On August 19, Mahmoud Kamel, a board member for the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate, was cited in news reports as saying that Ouna had asked for a vacation from her outlet two days before her arrest.
Amr Badr, another board member for the syndicate, told Al-Araby TV on August 20 that the investigation into Ouna took place without a lawyer present and focused on her communication with media outlets outside Egypt. CPJ could not find evidence of Ouna working for foreign outlets, but the implication is that outside outlets published her work, without using her name.
On September 30, 2018, another lawyer for Ouna, Ali Al-Halwani, told the local news website Katib that he presented the prosecutor with file showing her employment with Al-Watan and her most recent work covering medical stories for the pro-government daily. The journalist also covered labor issues, funerals, and other generally non-sensitive topics.
As of late 2018, authorities had repeatedly renewed her 15-day pretrial detention period at al-Nozha police station in Cairo, according AFTE, ANHRI, and news reports.
Ouna is one of several journalists arrested as part of a larger crackdown and trial known as case 441, in which dozens of defendants in a mass trial face charges of spreading false news and being a member of a banned group. The trial came as Egypt’s crackdown on the press deepened in 2018; authorities ratcheted up their rhetoric against media outlets as President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ran for and won re-election. Government officials and media regulators threatened the media with fines and prosecutors detained journalists for allegedly spreading false news.
Late in 2018, the Ministry of Interior, which has oversight of the police and prison system, and the prosecutor general’s office had not answered CPJ’s requests for comment sent via email.