Egypt’s military has freed Hossam Bahgat, the prominent rights defender and investigative journalist, a day after his detention led to calls for his release from the United Nations.
— Heba Morayef (@hebamorayef) November 10, 2015
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“He called me and said he’s been released from the military intelligence building,” Gasser Abdel-Razek, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative For Personal Rights group that Bahgat founded, told the AFP news agency.
No further information was available in the immediate moments after Bahgat’s release.
Military intelligence arrested Bahgat, a 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”.
The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Tuesday that they were deeply disturbed by the arrest and extended detention of Bahgat.
“We urge the Egyptian authorities to release Mr Bahgat without delay,” Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said.
‘Let’s use momentum’
Those who had campaigned for Bahgat’s release welcomed the news with caution, saying that many others remain imprisoned in a blow to press freedom.
The film-maker and writer Omar Robert Hamilton had been organising a protest demanding Bahgat’s release in New York.
On hearing Bahgat was freed, he wrote on Facebook: “Good news: Hossam has been released. So many more are still in jail, though. So let’s still go to the consulate today with posters for Shawkan and Alaa and other cases of those detained for expressing their opinions or their journalistic work.
“Let’s take this momentum and roll it on.”
Mahmoud Abou Zeid, a freelance photographer who is known as Shawkan, was arrested in the summer of 2013 while doing his job. He is charged with crimes ranging from murder to weapon possession – allegations his lawyer strongly denies.
Alaa Abdel Fattah, a prominent blogger and pro-democracy activist jailed in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution, was sentenced to five years in prison in February. He was accused of organising an “unauthorised” demonstration in 2013.
In a statement published on Sunday night, Amnesty International said that Bahgat’s arrest was part of the Egyptian authorities’ “ferocious onslaught against independent journalism and civil society”.
After Egypt’s 2011 revolution, Bahgat received Human Rights Watch’s Alison Des Forges Award, which honours human rights activists of note.
|Film explores Egypt’s press freedom crackdown
Since the military overthrow of democratically elected 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.