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Al-Jazeera reporter and cameraman arrested and questioned by authorities for reporting on farm workers; recording confiscated

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders calls on the Egyptian authorities to stop harassing reporter Howayda Taha of the pan-Arab satellite TV station Al-Jazeera, who was arrested on 28 January 2008 together with her cameraman while doing a report on farm workers in Nikla, a village near Giza (20 km southwest of Cairo).

"Taha's investigative reporting on mistreatment of detainees and social problems upsets the Egyptian authorities," the press freedom organisation said. "She is already subject to a prison sentence for which she is currently awaiting the outcome of an appeal. We call on the authorities to put an end to all forms of harassment and intimidation of this journalist."

Taha has been working on a series of reports on those who are "forgotten and excluded" for an Al-Jazeera documentary. Her lawyer, Ahmed Helmi, told Reporters Without Borders she had the impression she was being followed by intelligence operatives.

"She was arrested (. . .) after conducting several interviews about the problems of corruption and unemployment experienced by the inhabitants of the village of Nikla, subjects that do not help the government's image," he said.

Taha and her cameraman, Alaa Salah Eddin, who had a permit to film issued by the interior ministry, were questioned for four hours before being released. The police refused to return the interviews they had recorded. They were not charged.

Taha was sentenced by a state security court on 2 May 2007 to six months in prison and a fine of 20,000 Egyptian pounds (3,500 euros) for "attacking national interest" by preparing a report on the torture of detainees in Egyptian prisons. Her appeal is due to be heard on 11 February (see IFEX alerts of 9 March, 31, 18 and 16 January 2007; please note that in previous alerts, the journalist's name is sometimes spelled "Huwaida Taha Mitwalli").

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