Free Egyptian Journalists

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THE IFJ (International Federation of Journalists) has strongly condemned a 10-year prison sentence handed out to researcher and investigative journalist Ismail Alexandrani in Egypt. The North Cairo Military Criminal Court sentenced Alexandrani on May 22 for having allegedly published military secrets and joined the Muslim brotherhood.

The IFJ expressed serious concerns over the sentence and the repeated targeting of journalists in Egypt, preventing them from freely exercising their job and their right to free speech. Alexandrani was first arrested in November 2015 at Hurghada Airport, Egypt after participating in a conference in Berlin, Germany during which he was giving courses on the Egyptian situation, according to his wife Khadija Gaafar.

After having spent more than two years in pre-trial detention, the journalist, who specialised on issues related to Islamist groups and Sinai, was arrested by the Criminal Court and sentenced to 10 years in prison, according to his lawyer Tarek Abdel Aal.

Among others, Alexandrani wrote for Le Monde Diplomatique, Jadaliyya, Safir Arabi and Orient XXI.

Known for his critical writings, the journalist was accused of publishing military secrets, being part of the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned organisation in Egypt since 2013, and spreading information likely to harm the country’s national safety.

IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: ‘Egypt has an obligation to respect the right of journalist to work freely. ‘The IFJ calls on the Egyptian authorities to free Ismail and all our colleagues currently in jail for their work.’

In a further clampdown on journalists by the al-Sisi regime, Egyptian media have reported that internationally renowned journalist, activist and blogger Wael Abbas was allegedly taken from his home on Wednesday morning by Egyptian police, with none of his family or friends aware of his whereabouts. Abbas posted a short message on his personal Facebook account at 4am saying that he was being arrested. Comments from his friends asking what was happening were met with no response.

So far there is no official press statement that confirms or denies Abbas’ arrest, though legal sources told Youm7 newspaper that Abbas was reportedly detained on grounds of opposing the Egyptian state. Heavily armed officers raided Wael Abbas’s home in Cairo overnight and took him away blindfolded to an unknown location, according to his lawyer Gamal Eid.

Abbas himself posted on Facebook: ‘I am being arrested.’ A statement from the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), which Eid heads, said Abbas’s home in Cairo was raided at dawn by heavily armed police officers who did not show a warrant or give any reasons for detaining him. They also allegedly seized computers and telephones.

Eid told journalists: ‘I am in touch with his family. ‘And what has happened is a kidnapping, not an arrest. ‘We are currently trying to find out where he is.’ One report cited security officials as saying he was suspected of spreading false news and joining a banned group.

Word of Abbas’ arrest went viral on social media, prompting the hashtag #Where is Wael Abbas.

American-Egyptian journalist Mona al-Tahawy posted on Twitter: ‘I am hearing that friend and well-known activist Wael Abbas has been arrested. ‘A mutual friend says security forces broke into Wael’s home in Cairo, blindfolded him and arrested him.’

Abbas is the blogger-in-chief at Misr Digital. In 2017, he reported an incident of mob harassment of women, and posted several videos of police attack convicting them for brutal torture, which stirred anger among the government. His Youtube, Yahoo and Twitter accounts were closed. Facebook had also deleted Wael’s account, but it was since restored.

Abbas won the journalism award from the International Centre for Journalists in 2007, and also won the Human Rights Watch’s Hellman/Hammett Award in 2008. Abbas was named the Middle East’s Person of the Year in 2007 by CNN and was considered one of the Most Influential People of 2006 by the BBC.

A number of bloggers and activists are reported to have been detained since President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi was re-elected for a second term in March. Human rights groups have accused al-Sisi of overseeing an unprecedented crackdown on dissent since he led the military’s overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, Mohammed Mursi, in 2013 following mass protests.

More than 1,000 protesters have been killed in clashes with security forces, at least 60,000 people are reported to have been arrested or charged, hundreds have been handed preliminary death sentences, and hundreds more have gone missing.

Most of them have been supporters of Morsi’s now-banned Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, but liberal and secular activists have also been targeted. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has also strongly condemned the arrest of two organisers of an annual media award in Tripoli, Libya.

Armed men linked to the Government of National Accord (GNA), Libya’s internationally recognised government, have arrested Suleiman Qashout, chair of the Septimus Award board, and Mohamad Yaacoubi, director of the award, at a café in Tripoli’s Hai Al-Andalous area on April 29, 2018.

The Septimus Award, named after the Roman emperor who was born in Libya, has been given annually since 2012 to Libyan media professionals, singers, and actors in a ceremony in Tripoli.

It is sponsored by media groups and supported by the GNA’s Ministry of Culture and Civil Society.

So far, the Special Deterrence Force (SDF) has not provided an arrest warrant or any legal justification for the arrest, but Ahmed Bin Salem, spokesman of the armed group, stressed that it had nothing to do with the media award.

Yet, a relative of Qashout claims that the journalist had received several warnings before and after the award, which took place on March 28. The IFJ calls on Fayez al-Sarraj, Prime Minister of the GNA, to make sure the two journalists are released without delay.

‘It is the government’s responsibility to put an end to harassment, arbitrary detention, and intimidation of journalists in the territories under the GNA control,’ said IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger. ‘The safety and wellbeing of journalists in the country must be made a priority.’