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How Egyptian authorities targeted journalists during the presidential elections

An employee checks for phosphorous ink on a resident's finger during the distribution of staple commodities as part of an effort to mobilize voters during the 2018 presidential election, in Giza, Egypt, 28 March 2018
An employee checks for phosphorous ink on a resident's finger during the distribution of staple commodities as part of an effort to mobilize voters during the 2018 presidential election, in Giza, Egypt, 28 March 2018

Islam Safwat/NurPhoto via Getty Images

This statement was originally published on afteegypt.org on 29 April 2018.


Summary

- Egyptian police forcibly disappeared four young journalists before presenting them to State Security Prosecution; the latter detained them pending investigation
- The rate of imprisonment of journalists in publishing cases increased during the period accompanying the presidential elections.
- In two cases, the Public Prosecution ordered the imprisonment of journalists as a result of their participation in the production of documentary films on the political situation in Egypt.
- The lack of registration in the union is still a sword over the necks of young journalists and a ready charge to fabricate accusations against them; monitored in at least two cases.
- If imprisonment is the punishment of practicing the profession of journalism for Egyptians, deportation is the punishment of foreign journalists; the case of Bel Trew British Times correspondent.


Introduction

The presidential election in Egypt coincided with extensive campaigns against press freedom and journalists. The Ministry of the Interior, the Journalists' Syndicate, the Higher Media Council, the National Press Agency, the Public Information Authority and the Public Prosecution participated in these campaigns. The latter has recently entered the line of violation of press freedom in a new manner. The Public prosecutor issued a statement in which he said that public prosecutors and public attorneys will monitor printed, audio and video media and take legal action against those commit breaches, or in other words, "the forces of evil", quoting the statement.

This paper attempts to monitor the general atmosphere in which the press community worked during the period of the Egyptian presidential elections. The researcher worked to monitor the many indicators for violations against journalists working in Egypt.


Documentary films anger the president and cause their makers to disappear

On the morning of February 4, 2018 - at 11 am - contact with trainee journalists Hassan al-Banna Mubarak and Mustapha al-Aasar was interrupted. Their lawyers later learned that they had been arrested by a security campaign of the National Security, when they were traveling in a "microbus" from their residence in the Faisal district of the Giza governorate to Hassan's work place in Dokki district.

Al-Aasar works as a trainee journalist at the Ultra Voice website, while Hassan works as an intern at the desk for Al-Shorouk newspaper. The two journalists remained under enforced disappearance for 13 days. During that period, Hassan's family sent several telegrams to the Attorney General, the Attorney General of the Giza Prosecution, the National Council for Human Rights, the Minister of the Interior, the Ministry of Interior Inspection Department and the Director of Giza Security to inform them of the disappearance. The family considered him forcefully disappeared. The Al Aasar family continued to search for him in hospitals and police departments.

Their lawyers filed a complaint with the Attorney-General of the Giza Prosecution for the disappearance of the journalists on Monday. Then a lawyer found Mustafa al-Aasar during his presentation to the Supreme State Security Prosecution on Saturday, February 17, 2018. He learned that Hassan and al-Aasar had been interrogated on Thursday (February 15th) and the prosecution decided to detain them for 15 days in case No. 441 of 2018 after charging them with joining a group established against the law and publishing false news.

AFTE learned that the arrest of journalist Hassan al-Banna Mubarak was a coincidence in view of his presence with his flatmate, who was followed by the police for participating in the filming of a number of public and political figures in Egypt, especially those whose positions changed from supporting President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to opposing him. This film was being prepared for marketing purposes in one of the channels that have strained relations with the Egyptian authorities.

On the morning of February 18, 2018, a police force raided the house of photographer Ahmed Tarek, in the Nahia district of Giza Governorate. His mother says, "A number of individuals entered Ahmed's room and closed the door, and interrogated him for more than half an hour."

His mother did not hear anything from the conversation between them throughout this period. After the interrogation, which they described as a "chat," the laptop and personal phone of Ahmed Tariq were seized and security forces asked Ahmad to change his clothes and leave with them.

On the afternoon of Tariq's arrest, his lawyer went to ask about him in the Kerdasa police station, as one of the officers had told Tareq's mother while he was being taken to a place unknown to her. However, the police station of Kerdasa denied his presence and denied his arrest. His family filed a complaint about his disappearance by the police to the public prosecution and relevant bodies. However, one of the lawyers found Ahmed Tarek on the fourth day of his disappearance, Saturday, February 21, 2018, at the State Security Prosecution, where his lawyer learned that he had been interrogated and that Saturday's session was to complete the investigation into high state security case No. 467, after being accused of joining a group found to be contrary to the law and publishing false news. The prosecution decided to detain him for 15 days pending investigations.

The real circumstances of the arrest of Ahmed began on Friday morning, March 2, 2018, when Al-Masry Al-Youm published a news story on its website titled A Film, a Drama and a Poetry Chamber … Behind the President's Wrath, in which it said that the Supreme State Security Prosecution on March 1, 2018, received national security investigations of regarding the makers of the documentary film minus 1095, where it accused the filmmakers of "intentionally spreading false news to incite against the state, through the transmission of images and videos and statements taken out of context, and belonging to opposition political movements, receiving assignments from hostile media outlets, a prelude to broadcast through channels that are hostile to the state and in support of the Brotherhood." The prosecution ordered the arrest of Salma Alaeddin, the director, and a photographer, and decided to detain film editor Tareq Ziadeh for 15 days for producing the film, which showed a number of public figures who made statements, described by investigations to be "offensive against the state". Those figures includied Azza Suleiman, Abdul Khaliq Farouk, Ghazali Harb, Hamdi Qeshta, Mazin Hassan, Ilham Eidaros, Masoum Marzouq, Mamdouh Hamza, Amr Badr, Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Anwar Sadat.


Motaz Wadna and the arrest for publishing

In a recent "Fact Sheet" on the file of imprisoned journalists, AFTE noted that one of the most recent forms of arrest and harassment of journalists on the basis of their work is the direct and multiple targeting of journalists, including the targeting of journalists who work in media outlets whcih the state considers are seeking to harm security and stability, and spread lies and rumors about the Egyptian state. A number of journalists and media people are behind bars today on the case of "Mekamelin 2", which includes a large number of these journalists, on whom AFTE plans to issue a separate report. That is in addition to other cases, including the case of journalist Mahmoud Husein, who is held pending investigation in case 11152/2016 for working as a news producer in the Qatari based Al Jazeera channel.

The arrest of journalist Mu'taz and Danan is an important sign of this kind of targeting of journalists as well as the decline of press freedom in Egypt during the current period. On Friday evening, February 16, 2018, the security forces arrested Mu'taz Muhammad Shams al-Din, aka. Mo'taz Wednan, and a number of his latives while they were in one of their cars, before leaving his relatives to an unknown location, most probably a national security headquarters. This followed the publication by Arabic Huffington Post a dialogue recorded with the Judge Hisham Geneina, that was filmed at his home, concerning the arrest of the team of Sami Anan, the former chief of staff of the Egyptian army, and the candidate excluded from the presidential elections of 2018. In that interview Geneina said things considered by the state to be a violation of the law, upon which the ministry of the interior arrested Hisham Geneina and handed him over to the Public Prosecution for interrogation.

Wednan appeared in the Supreme State Security Prosecution on Saturday (February 21st) and was charged with joining a banned group and publishing false news. The Supreme State Security Prosecution decided to detain him for 15 days pending investigations into case No. 441 of 2018, high state security.

The case of Wednan witnessed a further shift in the level of violations against journalists. The fact that the detention of Wednan is one of the few facts in which a decision of imprisonment was issued exclusively because of publishing, in violation of the constitution, which explicitly prohibited imprisonment in press cases (article 71) exept in three cases (incitement to violence, discrimination between citizens, defaming individuals' honor), none of which was committed by Mo'taz.

Another aspect of the Wednan case is the threat he received from the family of Judge Hisham Geneina, where he was contacted and threatened by the Judge's family according to a statement published by Wednan's family, where it denied allegations by Mr. Hossam Lotfi, the judge's lawyer that Wednan had clandestinely recorded the session, and has edited and taken it out of context, resulting in the later arrest of Wednan. Wednan replied to those accusations during the interrogations and presented a 90 min recording of the meeting with the judge, that proves his and his family's knowledge of the interview, and that it was filmed by a professional camera and not by his mobile phone as claimed by Geneina's lawyers in their statement. This case demonstrates the danger of journalists being scapegoated for being the weaker link in those equations and their easy abuse in view of the absence of any role of the councils and bodies whose role is to defend these journalists, such as the Journalists Syndicate and the Supreme Council for Media.


Read the full report on AFTE's page.

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