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Egypt arrests three journalists in five days, whereabouts of two unknown

This statement was originally published on cpj.org on 26 October 2015.

At least three journalists have been arrested in the past five days in Egypt, and the whereabouts of two of them are unknown, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Egyptian authorities to disclose the reasons for the journalists' arrests and release them immediately.

"With the holding of journalists in undisclosed locations, and not naming any charges against them, Egypt's leaders are showing they will stop at nothing in their bid to silence the press," Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said. "We call on authorities to immediately release Mahmoud Mostafa Saad, Hisham Jaafar, and Hussam el-Sayed and stop trampling over the rule of law."

Mahmoud Mostafa Saad was detained at Cairo airport on Friday, while he was about to travel to London on a student visa, according to reports. Saad told his wife in a phone call from the airport that he had been detained by security forces and that he had not been informed of any accusations or charges against him. He has not been heard from since.

Khaled el-Balshy, a prominent journalist and member of the Egyptian Journalists' Syndicate, told CPJ that Saad worked for the privately owned newspaper and website Al-Nahar a few years ago and is still a registered member of the syndicate. CPJ has been unable to determine whether he worked for any news outlet at the time of his arrest. The motive for Saad's arrest is unclear. The Ministry of Interior has denied any knowledge of Saad's whereabouts, according to reports.

On Wednesday, masked and armed security forces raided the offices of the Mada Foundation for Media Development in the Cairo suburb of 6th October and arrested Hisham Jaafar, the director of the organization, according to news reports. Security officers took him to his house, where, according to reports citing Jaafar's son, they conducted an aggressive search, destroying furniture and personal items. The agents then briefly brought Jaafar back to the office before taking him away to an undisclosed location.

On Sunday, Jaafar's lawyers learned that he was being held at Tora prison and had been interrogated by National Security prosecutors, el-Balshy told CPJ. While the syndicate has not seen an official charge sheet, Jaafar's lawyers say he is accused of receiving illegal foreign funding and belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood group, according to el-Balshy. The lawyers believe these charges are related to his work at the Mada Foundation.

After Jaafar's arrest on Wednesday, security officers stayed at the Mada offices, searched office equipment and computers, and questioned staff members for several hours. Security forces prevented lawyers from entering the offices or conferring with their clients inside, according to lawyers from the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information who were among the group forbidden from entering. Security forces allowed the staff to leave and shut down the offices later that same day.

Another journalist who works for Mada was arrested the next day. Security forces on Thursday at dawn raided the home of journalist Hussam el-Sayed, arrested him, and took him to an undisclosed location. While el-Sayed's whereabouts are unknown, and it is not clear if he has been questioned, el-Balshy said the syndicate learned that he was being investigated in the same case as Jaafar.

CPJ's phone calls last week and today to the Ministry of Interior for comment on the three cases were not answered.

El-Balshy told CPJ that the syndicate had filed two separate reports to the prosecutor-general, accusing security forces of violating the law in the three cases, and demanding information about the journalists' whereabouts and the charges against them.

The Mada Foundation for Media Development is a non-governmental organization that provides media training and support for local journalists. It operates a website, OnIslam.net, which covers news as well as lifestyle, health, and Islamic spirituality.

The website was founded by former staff members of another website, IslamOnline.net, who in 2010 fell out with that outlet's Qatari-based board members. Jaafar was the editor-in-chief of IslamOnline.net, which covers a range of Islamic issues and is widely popular, according to news reports.

Hundreds of people have been kidnapped or arrested and held in undisclosed locations by security forces in Egypt in recent months, in cases that rights groups call "forced disappearances." The Ministry of Interior denied that they are responsible for these disappearances in a statement earlier this month. Egypt has maintained an intense crackdown on journalists this year, with record numbers of people behind bars for their reporting.

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