UPDATE: Hossam Bahgat was released from detention at midday Cairo time on November 10. It is uncertain whether the charges against him are still pending. We will post further updates as warranted.
We are alarmed and dismayed to learn of the arrest of Hossam Bahgat, one of Egypt’s most intrepid journalists and defenders of human rights. Bahgat is a regular columnist and investigative reporter for the independent newspaper Mada Masr and a contributor to Middle East Report.
On November 5, according to Mada Masr, Bahgat was told to report to military intelligence headquarters in Cairo. He arrived there on November 8, and was interrogated without a lawyer, as is common practice for the Egyptian security apparatus. He was then transferred to the custody of military prosecutors, who did allow him to see his attorneys. Since then, however, he has been held at an unknown location.
Bahgat is charged with disseminating false information that harms the Egyptian public by inciting disorder and panic. Articles 102 and 188 of the country’s penal code prohibit the publication or broadcast of such information and provide for draconian penalties including thousands of Egyptian pounds in fines and jail sentences of unspecified length.
These bogus allegations, Bahgat’s lawyers and Egyptian colleagues believe, are prompted by his latest major story for Mada Masr, “A Coup Busted,” dated October 14. In this article, Bahgat revealed the secret conviction of 26 military officers on charges of plotting with members of the Muslim Brothers to overthrow the regime of President ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights notes that military prosecutors “ordered Bahgat’s detention for four days pending interrogation on charges related solely to his writing as a journalist, despite the fact that Article 41 of the Press Law prohibits pre-trial detention in publication-related crimes.” Keeping Bahgat incommunicado is also in violation of both the Egyptian constitution and various covenants of international law to which Egypt is a signatory.
Bahgat has a long, distinguished record of investigative reporting and an abiding concern with the promotion of human rights and greater democracy in Egypt.
In 2002 he founded the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. During his time there Bahgat rose to prominence as a human rights advocate and an analyst of Egyptian current events. He was frequently quoted in the Western press throughout the popular uprising, elections and eventual reconsolidation of military rule during the period 2011-2013.
We join Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists and other organizations, as well as our Egyptian friends and colleagues, in condemning Hossam Bahgat’s arrest and demanding his immediate release. All charges against him should also be dropped at once.