After a critical report on human rights violations in Egypt was broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), a woman whom the report alleged had been forcibly disappeared sat down for a nationally televised interview on Monday night with media host Amr Adib, who impugned the accuracy of the report throughout the broadcast.
Diaa Rashwan, the head of the State Informace Service (SIS), called in to Adib’s show shortly after the interview aired to say that he believes the “inaccuracy” of the report “might end the career” of BBC journalist Orla Guerin.
The state agency, which falls under the jurisdiction of Egypt’s president, issued a long statement on Monday night after the broadcast titled “SIS: Zubeida appearance affirms the authenticity of SIS statement revealing lies of BBC correspondent,” following an initial Saturday statement that criticized the BBC report.
The multimedia report by journalist Guerin titled “The Shadow Over Egypt” details stories of torture, forced disappearances and activist arrests, as told through the eyes of victims’ family members, lawyers and human rights activists. The mother of Zubeida, the woman who appeared on Adib’s show on Monday, told the BBC that her daughter had been forcibly disappeared and is quoted in the report as claiming, “I have been trying to find Zubeida for 10 months.” Guerin’s report was accompanied by a short documentary on the same subject titled Crushing Dissent in Egypt, which aired on BBC World and BBC News Channel on February 24 and 25.
Zubeida was the first person profiled in Guerin’s five-part report. According to her mother, she was arrested and imprisoned once in 2014 and forcibly disappeared by Egyptian authorities twice: once for 28 days in July 2016, and a second time in April of last year. In Crushing Dissent in Egypt, Zubeida’s mother says she has no doubt the police took her daughter away. “Neighbours told us that armed and masked men came in a police vehicle and took her away in a minibus. They had been to our old house, inquiring about her, several times.”
However, Zubeida appeared on the talk show “Kol Youm” (Every Day), which airs on local satellite channel ONtv, and said that she had not spoken to her mother for around a year and that she currently lives with her husband and son, both of whom appear alongside her in the interview.
During her appearance on Adib’s talk show, Zubeida denied she was ever tortured during the four months she spent in Qanater Prison after joining her mother in a Muslim Brotherhood protest during the nationwide debate on the drafting of the 2014 Egyptian Constitution.
According to the BBC report, however, Zubeida’s mother claims that both she and her daughter were tortured by authorities while in police custody. The mother stated that she was arrested alongside her daughter in 2014, when the two were “just passing by a protest,” implying that the two women had no intention in participating in a Muslim Brotherhood demonstration as Zubeida claimed during her interview with Adib. Guerin’s report adds that Zubeida and her mother were convicted on several charges, including attending a banned demonstration, and spent seven, not four, months in jail before being acquitted.
Rashwan said that he believes that Guerin violated the BBC’s code of ethics, as well as standard journalistic practices. “One of these violations was neglecting to mention that [Zubeida and her mother] took part in political protests … Orla hid their political identity.”
Rashwan also claimed that Guerin failed to ask other sources to confirm the mother’s account.
“I believe that this matter might be the end of Orla Guerin’s professional career,” said Rashwan.
In response to Mada Masr’s request for comment, the BBC spokesperson stated, “We are aware of the reports about this BBC story on Egyptian TV and of the comments of the head of the State Information Service. We stand by the integrity of our reporting teams.”
Egypt has called on the BBC to officially apologize for the report.
“The apology must be through the same medium, whether via broadcast or website and as frequent as the publication of the original investigation,” said Rashwan. “It is not a question of a political mistake, rather we said it is almost fabrication.”
The SIS head asserted, however, that an apology would not suffice and that the agency has officially demanded the BBC to “take all necessary measures to correct what has been published.”
On the same night, Rashwan spoke to another privately owned television channel and demanded that official sources abstain from speaking to the BBC. The SIS head added in his interview with Dream TV, that SIS also noted to the BBC that their own code of ethics has been broken by Guerin.
Rashwan said he believes that the BBC’s story is part of a larger campaign being mounted against Egypt during the Human Rights Council meeting held this week in Geneva and attended by Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.
The Egyptian delegation in Geneva is set to discuss the status of human rights in the country, said Rashwan.
During his call to Adib’s talk show, Rashwan suggested that SIS will collaborate with the Foreign Ministry to explore the legal measures available in the UK to Egyptian state authorities, with the aim of pursuing further retribution against the BBC, using Zubeida’s interview with Adib as evidence of the media organization’s false reporting.
“We have Zubeida here in front of us. We do not have a disappeared person and we are willing, if necessary, to have Zubeida testify anywhere in the world,” he said. “I believe this is an important lesson for everyone, not politically, but professionally.”