Military spokesperson Tamer al-Rifai denied reports that journalist and researcher Ismail Alexandrani was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Tuesday. Rifai told the Paris-based NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) that no such sentence was issued.
Sophie Amuth, director of RSF in the Middle East, told Mada Masr that she communicated with Rifai on May 22, the same day Alexandrani’s lawyer, Tarek Abdel Aal, told Mada Masr that Alexandrani had just been sentenced to 10 years.
The military has not issued any official statements about the sentencing of Alexandrani, a specialist in Sinai and Islamist groups, who was placed in pretrial detention in November 2015 and referred to the military prosecutor in December 2017.
Amuth said the military spokesperson seemed unfamiliar with details of the case and asked her to call him back to get more information about it. She said he later confirmed that no verdict was issued, and that the case is still “under investigation.”
When she asked Rifai about the reports of a 10-year sentence, he responded “false news,” and said Alexandrani “still holds his right to the possibility of acquittal.”
Abdel Aal, head of the legal unit at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), told Mada Masr that Rifai’s statement to RSF means the case is still pending investigation, which does not make sense.
The military prosecution charged Alexandrani with obtaining and publishing military secrets, joining a banned organization and publishing false news abroad in Case 18/2018. The second defendant in the case is Waleed Muharib, who is also charged with illegally obtaining funds from abroad. Alexandrani and Muharib were both issued 10-year sentences, Abdel Aal confirmed.
Verdicts by military courts require ratification by a higher authority, and Abdel Aal hopes the president will either not ratify the verdict, annul it or undo it, in accordance with military judicial law. According to the law, the 10-year sentence will not be implemented before ratification, which should come within 60 days of the verdict’s issuance.
Abdel Aal suggests that Rifai’s statement either means that Tuesday’s verdict is not enforceable as long as not ratified, that he is not following the case, or that the ratification authority has decided to change the verdict.
Abdel Aal reiterated that the sentence was issued by the North Cairo Military Court against Alexandrani and one other defendant on May 22. “I made legal arguments myself before the court over seven court sessions, the last of which lasted an hour and a half,” he explained. “The date to announce the verdict was then announced for May 19, and later postponed to May 22.”
Alexandani spent over two and a half years in pretrial detention. He was arrested on November 29, 2015, at Hurghada Airport, on arrival from Berlin. The Supreme State Security Prosecution referred his case to the military prosecutor last December.
Alexandrani’s arrest has been decried by RSF, Amnesty International and several other rights groups and scholars, who say he is being targeted for criticizing Egyptian authorities in his academic and journalistic work, which has addressed the new Suez Canal and Egypt’s war on Sinai-based militants.