Egypt military arrests journalist in 'blow for freedom'

A prominent journalist has been arrested by the Egyptian army in a move that raises concerns of press violations.

    Hossam Bahgat is an investigative journalist and human rights activist [Lilian Wagdy/Flickr]
    Hossam Bahgat is an investigative journalist and human rights activist [Lilian Wagdy/Flickr]

    The Egyptian army has arrested a prominent journalist and human rights advocate, prompting condemnation by human rights groups. 

    Military intelligence arrested Hossam Bahgat, an investigative journalist and contributor at the local Mada Masr news outlet, on Sunday morning after delivering a summons to his home on Thursday. According to Mada Masr, Bahgat was charged with "publishing false news that harms national interests and disseminating information that disturbs public peace".

    Hours later, Bahgat was referred to a military court. He was questioned over an article he published in October about what he called the secret military trial of 26 army officers reportedly plotting a coup. 

    In a statement published on Sunday night, Amnesty International said Bahgat's arrest is part of the Egyptian authorities' "ferocious onslaught against independent journalism and civil society". 

    Philip Luther, director of Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa programme, slammed the move as "yet another nail in the coffin for the freedom of expression in Egypt". 

    "The Egyptian military cannot continue to consider itself above the law and immune from criticism," Luther said. 

    The Committee to Protect Journalists' Middle East and North Africa programme coordinator, Sherif Mansour, said the arrest and detention of Bahgat is "a clear attempt to stifle reporting".

    "The Egyptian military has already indicated its contempt for the role of an independent media with a series of arrests of journalists," Mansour said.

    "The Egyptian authorities should release Hossam Bahgat immediately. The fact that he was questioned for so long without his lawyers present only heightens the outrage."

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    Before becoming a journalist, Bahgat founded the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a human rights organisation. 

    After Egypt's 2011 revolution, Bahgat received Human Rights Watch's Alison Des Forges Award, which honours human rights activists of note. 

    Since the military overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, Egypt has come under fire for cracking down on press freedom.

    Al Jazeera journalists Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste, along with seven colleagues outside the country, were accused of spreading "false news" in Egypt during their coverage of demonstrations protesting the overthrow.

    Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed were given sentences of seven to 10 years. Greste was deported from Egypt in February under a presidential decree. Mohamed and Fahmy, both of Egyptian origin, were freed together following a presidential pardon in September.

    The trial and subsequent imprisonment of the Al Jazeera journalists was widely condemned by the United Nations, European Union, and a large number of other countries.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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