The undersigned Egyptian human rights organizations strongly condemn the arrest of photojournalist Mohamed Sabry and his referral to an expedited military trial after he was detained while preparing a story for Reuters in the Rafah area in northern Sinai. We demand that Sabry be released immediately and that the Military Prosecution drop the charges of being present in a military zone without permission and taking photographs.
Sabry was arrested on 4 January while working on an investigative piece for Reuters on the decision to ban private ownership of land near the border strip in Sinai, after he was stopped by a member of the Border Guard. He was referred the following day to the North Sinai Military Prosecution for questioning, which subsequently referred him to a military court the same day in misdemeanor case no. 3/2013, on charges of being present in military zones prohibited to civilian access without a permit from the military authorities and taking photographs of locations and installations to which access and photography is prohibited by the military authorities. The next day, 6 January, Sabry appeared before the military court in Ismailiya, which postponed the trial to Wednesday, 9 January, at the request of defense counsel. Sabry is incarcerated at the al-Arish Central Prison pending trial.
During questioning by the Military Prosecution, Sabry said Reuters, for which he has worked as a freelancer for nearly a year, assigned him to prepare a story on the decision to ban private land ownership in the border region. While preparing the piece, on the day of his arrest, he interviewed Sheikh Ibrahim al-Mani’i, a resident of the area with the al-Sawarka tribe and one of the people invited to meet the Minister of Defense about the recent decree. Sabry then went to the border area to take photos to accompany his piece, at which point he was arrested. Sabry also said during questioning that he did not know of the order to prohibit access or photographs in the area.
Mohamed Sabry, 26, lives in the Bir al-Abd district of North Sinai. He is a member of the No Military Trials Group and works as a freelance reporter. He also maintains an independent blog (http://4sinai.wordpress.com) devoted to coverage of Sinai news and issues.
The undersigned organizations note that Sabry’s arrest and his referral to a military trial clearly confirms concerns about the flawed formulation of Article 198 of the new Constitution raised by human rights and democratic groups. For the first time in any Egyptian constitution, the article explicitly permits the referral of civilians to military trials in crimes “that harm the armed forces.” The organizations added that Sabry’s prosecution unequivocally discredits all supporters of the new Constitution who said during the discussion of the article, and before and after the referendum, that this disastrous article would not permit the continuation of unfair military trials of civilians.
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
No Military Trials Group
Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression
Egyptian Association for Enhancement of Community Participation
Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
Appropriate Communication Techniques for Development
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Nazra for Feminist Studies
New Woman Foundation
Habi Center for Environmental Rights
Land Center for Human Rights
Baheya Ya Masr