Joint statement by the Forum of Independent Egyptian Human Rights Organisations
The undersigned organisations call for the immediate and unconditional release of the journalist Hossam Bahgat who has been arbitrarily detained solely for the peaceful expression of his views. Military prosecutors this morning 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 pretrial detention in publication-related crimes.
Hossam Bahgat did not appear before the prosecutor this morning and the military prosecutor refused to tell lawyers where he is being detained in violation of both the Egyptian constitution and international human rights treaties Egypt has ratified.
Bahgat’s summons is a form of direct intimidation and will have a chilling effect on any journalists seeking to somewhat push the boundaries of the limited space for expression in Egypt today, the organisations said.
Hossam Bahgat is an investigative journalist who writes mostly for the news website Mada Masr and is the founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. He mostly writes hard-hitting in-depth investigative pieces and also produces an analytical daily digest of the Egyptian media’s coverage of news.
The military intelligence agency sent a formal summons to Hossam’s listed home address last Thursday to appear before them three days later. At 9am on November 8th, Hossam entered the Military Intelligence building on Nasr Road opposite Tiba Mall. Several journalists have been summoned over the past months for interrogation by this agency - a process which can last several hours and is often resolved through the signing of a declaration committing to no longer writing about certain issues.
Yet in this case, Hossam was transferred to the military prosecution around mid-day, according to his lawyers. Hossam was interrogated without legal counsel until around 5.30 pm when he was allowed to call for lawyers of his own choosing. Fifteen human rights lawyers and a lawyer from the journalists syndicate attended the interrogation.
His lawyers said that the military prosecutor had interrogated Hossam solely in connection with his writing and in particular one investigative report he wrote for the online newspaper Mada Masr on 13 October 2015.
They said that the charges against him were Article 102 bis “deliberately spreading false information with the purpose of harming public order or public interest” and Article 188 “publishing, with malicious intent, false news that is likely to disturb public order.”
The provisions carry a prison sentence of up to three years. The brand warning of the two provisions contravene Article 65 of the Egyptian constitution and Egypt’s commitments under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The organisations take this opportunity to call for a halt on the use of brand warning penal code provisions which violate freedom of expression, since these are the ones implemented most frequently in cases against journalists.
The undersigned organisations call for the immediate release of Hossam Bahgat and the dismissal of all charges against him.
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
National Community for Human Rights and Law
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
Arab Network for Human Rights Information
Centre for Egyptian Women Legal Aid
Appropriate Communications Techniques for Development
Habi Center for Environmental Rights
Hisham Mubarak Law Centre
Nazra for Feminist Studies
Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence
Association for Enhancement of Community Participation Enhancement
Alhaqanya Center for Law and Legal Profession
The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
The Egyptian Center for Public Policy Studies
The New Woman Foundation