Journalists behind bars in Egypt at all-time high, says group

At least 18 journalists are currently in Egyptian jails, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) — the highest number of media professionals to be detained at the same time since the organization started tracking arrests in the country in 1990.

Most of the journalists are in custody on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization, according to a census the CPJ conducted on June 1, 2015. The detainees were often beaten or otherwise abused by security forces at the time of arrest, and often had their homes raided and equipment confiscated, said the CPJ report.

The watchdog group accused Egyptian authorities of using national security and counter-terrorism measures as a cover for cracking down on press freedoms.

“The threat of imprisonment in Egypt is part of an atmosphere in which authorities pressure media outlets to censor critical voices and issue gag orders on sensitive topics,” CPJ warned.

The organization sent a delegation to Cairo in February to meet with high-profile officials including Prosecutor General Hesham Barakat and Transitional Justice Minister Ibrahim al-Heneidy, both of whom denied that any journalists had been arrested as a result of the work.

Freelance photographer Mahmoud Abou Zeid (better known as Shawkan), Rassd News Network founders Samhy Mostafa and Abdullah al-Fakharany, Amjad TV reporter Mohamed al-Adly, Sinai-based reporter Saeed Abouhaj, Misr 25 TV reporter Hany Salah El-Din and Al-Shaab al-Jadid online news outlet reporter Mohamed Ali Salah are among those currently imprisoned.

CPJ also cited Ahmed Fouad and Abdel Rahman Yaqout from the Alexandria-based Karmouz website, Mosad al-Barbary from Ahrar 25 TV, Omar Abdel Maksoud from the Masr al-Arabiya website, Abdel Rahman Shaheen from the Freedom and Justice Gate — a site affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm — Emad Abou Zeid from Suef online, Al-Nahar TV reporter Mohamed Ali Hassan, freelancer Hassan El-Kabbani, freelancer Tarek Mahrous, Ahmed al-Tanoubi from Arab Media Freedom Monitor and Al-Bedaiah reporter Yousef Shaaban.

Akhbar al-Youm reporter Mohamed al-Batawy is the latest journalist to join the ranks of the detainees, though he was arrested too recently to have been included in the CPJ report. Batawy’s family says he was apprehended a week ago from his home by National Security officers, and has been held at an unknown location ever since. On Wednesday, the reporter’s family and friends held a Ramadan iftar on the stairs of the Journalists Syndicate in downtown Cairo to protest his detention.

One of the highest-profile cases has been that of the three Al Jazeera English staffers arrested on terrorism-related charges after former President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster in 2013. After the three men were initially convicted and sentenced from seven to 10 years in prison, correspondent Peter Greste was ultimately deported back to Australia following intense international pressure. But former bureau chief Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, who holds Egyptian and Canadian citizenship, and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed remained in Egypt to face retrial after they were granted an appeal earlier this year. They have both been released from custody pending the retrial. 

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