Egypt: Arrest of prominent activist Hossam Bahgat another blow for freedom of expression
The arrest of a prominent advocate of freedom of expression in Egypt today is a clear signal of the Egyptian authorities’ resolve to continue with their ferocious onslaught against independent journalism and civil society, said Amnesty International.
Hossam Bahgat was summoned by military intelligence to appear for questioning this morning, apparently in connection with articles that he wrote about the Egyptian army, which the military has deemed to be a threat to its security. Amnesty International has learned that he is being charged by the military prosecutor in what could be a flagrant violation of his right to freedom of expression.
“The arrest of Hossam Bahgat today is yet another nail in the coffin for freedom of expression in Egypt. He is being detained and questioned by the military prosecutor for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and must be immediately and unconditionally released. Any charges brought against him must be dropped,” said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.
“The Egyptian military cannot continue to consider itself above the law and immune from criticism.”
The Egyptian authorities have used a draconian counter-terrorism law to clamp down on freedom of expression and harass and intimidate independent activists and journalists. The law criminalizes journalists who publish information that differs from the accounts of the Ministry of Defence. Amnesty International fears that Hossam Bahgat may be charged and prosecuted under the law.
Hossam Bahgat is one of Egypt’s most prominent activists. He is the founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), an independent Egyptian human rights organization. Last year Hossam Bahgat left EIPR and joined Mada Masr, an online news site, where he has written a series of articles concerning the army and military trials.
Last month he wrote an article about the military trial of 26 military officers who were accused and convicted of planning a coup. The article was based on official documents, including the military prosecutor’s indictment, and on interviews with the military officers’ families.
Military intelligence sent a summons to Hossam Bahgat at his home in Alexandria last Thursday to report for questioning today. He went to the military intelligence premises in Nasr City, Cairo, at 9am today and has remained there since. A short while ago he was allowed to make a three-second phone call to his colleagues informing them that he is being formally charged by the military prosecutor and needs a lawyer.
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