Mr. Makram Mohamed Ahmed
Head of the Higher Council for Media Regulation
Radia and TV building, Maspero
Nile corniche – Cairo
Subject: Situation of imprisoned journalists in Egypt.
The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) is writing to you to inform you of the situation of imprisoned journalists in Egypt, demanding that you seek to ensure the freedom of those journalists, who are harshly treated by the authorities for carrying out their journalistic profession. AFTE hopes that you will ensure the right of every journalist to work freely without restriction of personal freedom or threat to his/her physical safety.
AFTE is a group of lawyers and researchers, registered as an Egyptian legal entity since 2006 that works in the defense of freedom of expression and promotion of freedom of exchange of information.
The media had quoted the head of the Supreme Council for Media Regulation as saying that “no journalist is detained for reasons related to his religion, opinions or writings” in Egypt, during a press conference held by the Supreme Media Council on 15 November 2017. This is contrary to the reality in which journalists live. There are various violations against journalists, notably arbitrary arrest, which is one of the frequent patterns of violations monitored and documented by many human rights institutions in recent years, as well as was indicated by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in one of his speeches, where he called for a revision of cases of imprisoned students. Journalists are among the groups that have been subjected to random arrests on many occasions.
We also wish to inform you that journalists are directly targeted by security authorities, and the most vulnerable categories of journalists are photojournalists. Journalists are also directly targeted against the background of investigative reports, as was the case with journalist Ismail Al-Iskandarani, currently in precautionary detention, because of his press reports on the situation in North Sinai. A number of journalists and media workers are now behind bars in the Raba’a operation room, Mekamelin 1 and 2 cases, which constitutes targeting media workers that the state considers to be undermining security and stability. Among them is Mahmoud Hussein, who is being held in custody in case No. 11152 for the year 2016, because of his work as a news producer in the Qatari Al-Jazeera channel.
In addition, investigating bodies use precautionary detention as a punishment in itself and not a precautionary measure, since most arrested journalists are subjected to long period of precautionary detention, extending beyond the maximum legal duration of two years before referral to trial. There are in fact cases of journalists who spent a long period of precautionary detention, some of which extended beyond a year, before their innocence was proved or were released pending trials, including journalists Ahmed Gamal Ziada who spent 500 days in precautionary detention before the court acquitted him in the case known the media as “Al-Azhar university events” in December 2013.
In order for the proceedings not to be unconstitutional and to avoid accusations of incarcerating journalists, investigative authorities, based on inquiries from the Interior Ministry, uses accusations that are very similar in all cases of imprisoned journalists: joining the banned Muslim Brotherhood group and demonstrating without authorization, in addition to the accusations related to the practice of the profession, which is always in the form of dissemination of false news, statements and rumors aimed at undermining security and stability.
We would like to draw your attention in particular to the case of photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zayd “Shawkan”, who is serving his fourth year in prison in precautionary detention. Shawkan suffers from a very bad health condition due to a chronic disease “Thalassemia”. He needs continuous medical care, which is not granted by the prison administration, which refused to transfer him to hospital, and does not follow the necessary rules for his treatment. Attached is a copy of his medical condition.
AFTE calls on the Supreme Council for Media Regulation and its Chairman, Mr. Makram Mohamed Ahmed, to review the attached cases of imprisoned journalists and to review the Council’s position that there are no detained journalists on the basis of their work, so that the Council can provide the necessary moral and legal support for those journalists, without discrimination, in order to protect the right to press freedom and journalistic work, which is one of the most important mandates of the Council.