Mada founder and journalist arrested for allegedly harming 'Egypt's national security'

Published October 25th, 2015 - 12:48 GMT

The chairman of Mada Foundation NGO Hesham Gaafar is being investigated for receiving "international" funds "to harm Egypt's national security" and for belonging to a banned organization, a lawyer involved in his case told Aswat Masriya on Sunday. 

The Egyptian press syndicate had called on Saturday for the immediate release of Gaafar and another journalist detained last week, requesting that prosecutors notify the syndicate of their whereabouts and the charges they face. 

Gaafar, the former editor-in-cheif of islamonline.net, and Hossam el-Din el-Sayed are members of the press syndicate. They were arrested in two separate incidents on Wednesday and Thursday of last week. 

In a letter posted on the syndicate's website addressed to the state's top prosecutor, the syndciate said that following their arrest, the two were taken to an "undisclosed location," in violation of procedure stated in the penal code and the constitution. 

The Ministry of Interior has refused to comment on their whereabouts. 

But lawyer Mohamed al-Baqer, who attended Gaafar's interrogation told Aswat Masriya that his whereabouts have been known since Saturday, when he was questioned for eight hours.

Baqer said that in a procedural breach, Gaafar was first interrogated on Thursday in the absence of a lawyer. He was also only told the reason for his arrest on Saturday three days after his detention, upon the request of Baqer.

Initially, Gaafar was placed in the Homeland Security building in the Cairo suburb of 6th of October, Baqer said. He was then moved to a prison in Giza and then moved once more to Tora prison where he is now.

Baqer said Gaafar is being treated well, except for when he was blindfolded for a day and a half, adding that he is in "good health." The lawyer will be attending another interrogation session with Gaafar today. 

Gaafar was arrested on Wednesday. A statement by Giza security directorate at the time said that Homeland Security had arrested him. 

Homeland Security, previously known as State Security, is a police branch that was renamed after the January 2011 uprising at a time of pressure from the public to reform the security apparatus in general and State Security in specific.

Mada Foundation offers media consultancies and often works on issues related to women and society. Kawthar al-Khouli who manages one of the foundation's projects told Aswat Masriya last week that Mada is registered at the Ministry of Social Solidarity. 

Gaafar was first arrested from the NGO's premises after security forces raided it, then he was led to his home which was searched.

His arrest was condemned by many including Amnesty International, which described the arrest as being "unlawful."

"Carrying out an armed raid against an NGO which works to expand the skills of journalists sends a chilling and clear message that independent journalism and activities of civil society will not be tolerated in today’s Egypt," Said Boumedouha, the deputy director of Amnesty's MENA programme said in a statement on Oct. 21. 

Amnesty said Egypt has "an appalling track record of arbitrarily raiding NGOs."

Meanwhile, Sayed, who is merely Gaafar's neighbor and is not invloved with Mada, was arrested on Thursday at dawn. He was taken from his home, according to the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, a local NGO, which issued a statement on his arrest. 

Boumedouha believes that NGO workers and media professionals "should be able to carry out their legitimate work without fear, intimidation or harassment," adding that Egyptian authorities should "explain and immediately release anyone who is being detained for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association." 

Top Egyptian officials have repeatedly denied that journalists in the country are being targeted because of their work. 

In August, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi denied that any journalists are detained in cases related to publishing or press freedom.


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