Journalists are holding a rally in white clothes in solidarity with their detained colleagues at the Press Syndicate on Wednesday to protest once more the arbitrary regime practices and violence they are subject to.
This was announced earlier this week, alongside a campaign to support photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid Shawkan, who has faced one of the longest detentions in remand. He has exceeded 850 days behind bars, awaiting a trial that was finally set by court for 14 December.
Shawkan’s situation has stirred concern among the press community and was repeatedly denounced by human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) among others.
However, his case remains one example of many of the challenges journalists face under the severe crackdown. The arrest of journalist and researcher Ismail Alexandarani last week also sparked international controversy.
The Press Syndicate has been following up on journalists’ detention cases through its committee of rights and freedoms, headed by prominent journalist Khaled El-Balshy who reported at least 18 ongoing cases of infringement against journalists, especially those already in detention.
In light of this, he announced a campaign called “We will treat and release them, journalism is not a crime”. “Journalists’ treatment in places of detention has become intolerable; several of them are denied medication, despite critical health conditions,” El-Balshy said.
He listed at least seven journalists, including Shawkan, whose health conditions are deteriorating inside prisons and yet have been denied winter clothes, mattresses, and most importantly medication.
Like Shawkan, journalist Youssef Shaaban, who is detained alongside human rights lawyer Mahienour El-Massry in Alexandria prisons, suffers from hepatitis-C and despite being transferred to the hospital several times, he received no treatment, according to El-Balshy.
“We have documented that, following our requests to authorities, some journalists are taken to hospitals but not necessarily treated. Others are denied urgent medical intervention and medication and some were discovered to have new diseases,” he said.
An example he gave was that of journalist Mohamed El-Battawy, who according to family complaints, has caught some skin disease inside jail. El-Battawy was taken from his house by security forces on 17 June and his whereabouts were unknown for five days until the syndicate’s requests were eventually answered and he was revealed to be Tora Prison in Cairo.
Journalist Magdy Hussein is diabetic and has blood pressure issues and Hany Salah El-Din had a serious eye condition. “According to hospital reports, he needs surgery,” El-Balshy said, noting that he has filed reports and complaints to different state institutions to demand prison visits by syndicate members.
Other journalists in detention include Hassan El-Kabbani, Mahmoud Mostafa, Mohamed Ali Hassan, Mohamed Salah, and others. Journalists are often arrested while on the job or taken from their houses “usually with no evidence for their detention,” according to El-Balshy.
He also spoke of Hisham Gaafar, who was investigated in October. Gaafar is the director of Mada media organisation and a Press Syndicate member and is accused of belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood.
El-Balshy revealed that in some cases it is legally impossible to demand their release, so the presidency has been addressed regarding pardoning some journalists on grounds of health conditions.
“But for Rabaa operations’ room journalists, we have now demanded their release because they have spent the legal term in remand and their verdicts were cancelled by the cassation court to face re-trial,” he said.
Common charges filed against journalists include belonging to banned organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood and publishing false content as is the case for Alexandrani and Hossam Bahgat, whose detention and questioning also raised debates on press freedom. Bahgat was summoned in November by military intelligence over an article he published on the trial of military officers for an attempted “coup”.
Others, such as Shawkan, Abdullah Al-Fakharany, and a dozen other journalists in the Rabaa operations room trial were accused of having engaged in “violence against the state”.
On 3 December, the Egyptian Cassation Court accepted appeals on verdicts issued against 14 journalists and media workers; 13 of received life sentences and one received the death penalty for the Rabaa operations room trial.
The 13 journalists include Rassd board members Abdullah Al-Fakharany and Samy Mostafa, presenter on the Islamist Amgad channel Mohamed Al-Adly, and head of Ahrar 25 channel Mosaad Al-Barbary. Al-Fakharany was arrested on 25 August 2013, 11 days following the dispersals, and has since then been held in Istikbal Tora Prison.