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Rights groups demand release of journalist Ismail Alexandrani
Courtesy: Woodrow Wilson Center

Several international and local rights groups issued statements demanding the release of investigative journalist and sociopolitical researcher Ismail Alexandrani, detained for 15 days pending investigation into charges of belonging to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group and disseminating false information.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said his arrest “is the latest attempt by the Egyptian government to silence critical reporting through force and intimidation,” according to its Middle East and North Africa research associate Jason Stern.

CPJ warned that Alexandrani’s detention could be renewed indefinitely.

“We call on authorities to release Alexandrani immediately and drop all charges against him,” Stern said.

Alexandrani was taken into custody by National Security forces in Hurghada, where he was arrested at the airport early on Sunday, according to his wife Khadiga Gaafar’s Twitter account. He was then moved to Cairo, where he was interrogated for over eight hours by National Security Prosecution.

The prosecution inspected Alexandrani’s laptop, his cellphone and business cards he kept in his wallet of friends, colleagues, fellow journalists and academics, according to his lawyers.

In another joint statement, several local rights groups condemned Alexandrani’s detention, deeming it a violation, and called for his immediate and unconditional release.

The statement was signed by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, Nazra for Feminist Studies and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, among others.

The groups asserted Alexandrani’s detention is in line with the continued crackdown on journalists and opposition writers, which is “a violation of freedom of thought and expression and a disregard of rights and international standards to protect freedom of the press.” It also violates the Egyptian constitution, the statement added.  

They also called for the release of all prisoners of conscience and the opening up of political space for expression, urging “abandoning the gagging policy which only pushed us further into a dark tunnel.”

Alexandrani was held for over 10 hours at Hurghada airport on Sunday and was not allowed to see a lawyer until Tuesday. Human Rights Watch deemed this a violation of Egyptian law, which requires security officials to inform detainees of the reasons behind their detention and allow them to contact a lawyer.

“The arrest of Ismail Alexandrani is deeply disturbing and fits a pattern of Egyptian security agencies arresting people whose writings don’t conform to official views,” Joe Stork, HRW deputy Middle East director, stated.

“If Alexandrani had any arrest warrant or official charges, he should have been informed immediately,” Stork added. “What happened to him is clear intimidation and has little to do with the rule of law.”

Alexandrani’s journalistic work is often critical of government policies. Recent articles he published in Beirut-based newspapers As-Safir Arabic and Al-Modon claimed the new Suez Canal passageway is a delusion, criticized the state’s war on Sinai-based militants and used local sources to report details on the military’s battle with militants in the Western Desert.

All the statements by human rights organizations also referred to the three-day detention of Mada Masr contributor Hossam Bahgat last month, who was held on charges of publishing false news that harms national interests and disseminating information that disturbs the public peace.

Bahgat was released from military intelligence after he signed a document pledging to abide by legal and security procedures when publishing material pertaining to the Armed Forces.