Egypt extends detention of journalist by 15 days for ‘false news’

Published December 2nd, 2015 - 10:39 GMT

Egyptian State Security prosecutors detained Tuesday Egyptian researcher and journalist Ismail Alexandrani for 15 days on charges of joining an illegal group, spreading rumors and disturbing the public peace, all of which he denied.

Following an eight-hour interrogation attended by lawyers from the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), Alexandrani, an expert on Sinai affairs, was charged with "joining a group established in violation of the law to disrupt the constitution, laws and the work of state institutions and authorities," ECESR said in a statement published on Facebook.

The charges cited by the rights centre say that the charge sheet stated that "terrorism" is one of the means used by this group to achieve its aims, but did not refer to a specific group.

Over the past two years, Egypt has passed three anti-terror legislations and has outlawed two political groups including the Muslim Brotherhood.

Alexandrani is also charged with promoting the ideas of the unnamed group and "spreading false statements and rumours," likely to "disturb public peace" and "spread panic".

Alexandrani, 32, denied the accusations and asserted that his published work that is under investigation was journalistic, being "newsworthy and informational" in nature. He added that he stopped writing news in September 2014.

He did, however, continue to write opinion pieces. One published two weeks ago on Masr Alarabiya news website described the protests that unseated former president Mohamed Mursi in 2013 and his subsequent military ouster as a  "counter-revolution." The Egyptian state has insisted on describing these events as a "revolution."

But many who are against his arrest and interrogation are also highlighting that Alexandrani was openly critical of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well.

During the interrogation, which is being led by a branch of the prosecution that is typically involved in cases related to national security, prosecutors inspected Alexandrani's laptop and cell phone and even his wallet, ECESR said.

The defence lawyers requested his release for lack of justification for his detention but their request was denied.

His wife Khadeega said in a short message on Twitter, after the interrogation had ended, that she was able to see him.

Alexandrani was arrested at Egypt's Hurghada airport on Sunday upon his return from Berlin, where he was speaking at a conference titled "Deconstructing Islamist Terrorism in Egypt," organised by the German Council on Foreign Relations.

Initially, his wife said that he was stopped at the airport in a routine questioning, but as the hours passed she said she learned that Egypt's Homeland Security (also known as State Security) had him arrested based on a report filed against him by the Egyptian embassy in Berlin.

Alexandrani wrote for the Lebanon-based Assafir Arabi (which translates into Arab Ambassador) among other titles, at the time of his arrest. The news service described him as one of their "most distinguished writers," in a short statement on his arrest.

He is also a researcher at the Paris-based Arab Reform Initiative and was the Visiting Arab Journalist Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center from February to July 2015, where he worked on a project titled, “The Security Policy in Sinai: US-Egyptian Common Interest or Postponed Expensive Bill?"

He volunteered as a researcher on Sinai affairs at the Egyptian Centre for ECESR and is a Regan-Fascell Democracy Fellowship alumnus.

The multiple-award winning journalist and researcher has spoken about Sinai affairs in seminars across the world, according to his blog.

Many on social media are calling for Alexandrani's release using the hashtag "#free_Ismail" and other ones to circulate the calls.

Political commentator and columnist Amr Hamzawy said on Twitter, "you will not succeed in gagging mouths all the time. Freedom for everyone wronged and accountability for everyone involved in violating people's rights."

Outspoken satirist Bassem Youssef also said on Twitter that instead of serving Egyptians abroad, "our embassies" are "writing reports" against them "to have them arrested" when they return to Egypt.

His case is the most recent of a string of cases in the past two months where journalists have been detained and questioned by Egyptian authorities.

In October, Hesham Gaafar, the chairman of Mada Foundation NGO, journalist Hossam el-Din el-Sayed and journalist Mahmoud Mostafa were arrested within less than a week in separate incidents. The three are still in custody.

Last month, investigative journalist Hossam Bahgat was arrested and interrogated by the military prosecution also in connection with work he published as contributor to Mada Masr news website. Bahgat was released two days later amid calls by local and international organisations, including the United Nations, to set him free immediately.

By Hend Kortam


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