Following orders by the military prosecution to detain journalist Hossam Bahgat for four days on charges of “spreading false news”, NGOs and media organisations expressed their anger and condemnation, describing the arrest as “flawed” and demanding that authorities release Bahgat.
Bahgat, a contributor to Mada Masr independent news website, was summoned by the Military Intelligence for questioning Sunday morning. The office of the military spokesperson was contacted, but no comment or clarification was given.
Nasser Amin, a National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) representative, said the summoning of Bahgat by the military intelligence is “illegal and against the constitution”. Amin was one of the lawyers who accompanied Bahgat to the military intelligence building in Cairo near Rabaa Al-Adaweya Square.
Several lawyers volunteered their services, including rights lawyers Ragia Omran and Khaled Ali. Omran said the prosecution charged Bahgat with “publishing false news that harms national interests”.
Mohamed Eissa El-Sarawe, a lawyer with the Egyptian Center for Social Rights, said Bahgat will be interrogated by the prosecution again this Wednesday. He added that the charges specified a investigative report published last October reporting a “coup attempt” by a number of military officers in the army, and that they are facing military trial, amid accusations of collaborating with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on Egyptian authorities release Bahgat. “The Egyptian military has already indicated its contempt for the role of an independent media with a series of arrests of journalists. This latest detention is a clear attempt to stifle reporting,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour.
“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.”
No official reports or confirmation were announced. Information about the investigation was announced by friends and colleagues of Bahgat who accompanied him to the military district and waited outside for him.
However, Article 102 in the Egyptian Criminal Law stipulates that whoever spreads “news, statements, rumours” that aim to “endangers the “national peace and spread fear”, can face prison sentences or have to pay a fine. While Article 188 stipulates the punishment of whoever publishes flawed reports or fabricated papers, to “disseminating information that disturbs public interest”.
Amnesty International described the arrest as “ferocious onslaught against independent journalism and civil society”.
“The arrest of Hossam Bahgat today is yet another nail in the coffin for freedom of expression in Egypt… Any charges brought against him must be dropped,” said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.
“The Egyptian military cannot continue to consider itself above the law and immune from criticism,” Luther said.
Amnesty added in a statement that “Egyptian authorities have used a draconian counter-terrorism law to clamp down on freedom of expression”.
The spokesperson of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry was not available for comment on the accusations.
In a similar context, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP) and the Misr Al-Qawia party announced that it stands in solidarity with Bahgat, while expressing its concerns on the “recent attack press freedom is suffering from”.