A wave of local and international reactions and condemnations followed the arrest and detention of Egyptian researcher and journalist Ismail Alexandrani.
State Security Prosecution decided to detain Alexandrani, accused of belonging to an outlawed group and publishing false news, for 15 days pending investigations, with the next investigation session scheduled for Thursday.
A number of civil society organisations strongly condemned Alexandrani’s detention, and demanded his immediate and unconditional release.
Thirteen organisations, including the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), said the incident is considered a restriction of the freedom of thought and expression and a violation of the constitution.
The statement declared that Alexandrani’s case was not a unique one, as it was preceded by several others, amid the “continued pursuit” of journalists and opposition figures.
Renowned journalist and activist Hossam Bahgat was released by the military prosecution after two days of arrest and interrogation over an investigative report. This is in addition to dozens of other journalists, who are still detained for reporting charges, according to the regional observatory ANHRI.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also called on Egyptian authorities to release Alexandrani and drop all charges against him, referring to the arrest as “the latest attempt by the Egyptian government to silence critical reporting through force and intimidation”.
History Professor at the American University in Cairo Khaled Fahmy expressed his bafflement by the decision to arrest Alexandrani, in a statement published on his Facebook page Monday. Fahmy praised Alexandrani’s journalistic work, particularly his research on Sinai affairs, and questioned the extent to which media freedom and the right to access information is acknowledged.
Political scientist Amr Hamzawy also expressed solidarity with Alexandrani, and called for the release of all those who are unjustly detained, as well as accountability for those who commit human rights violations.
Head of the Freedoms Committee at the Press Synidcate Khaled El-Balshy told Daily News Egypt that the committee will hold a meeting Wednesday, where Alexandrani’s case will be a priority.
“There is going to be a difficulty with considering him a journalist, from the syndicate’s perspective, because he is more of a researcher and has not published journalistic work recently,” said El-Balshy. “However, the syndicate is still responsible for defending his right to freedom of expression, since Alexandrani’s case is clearly a publishing one.”
Article 102 of the Penal Code imposes prison sentences and fines on those who are accused of publishing false news, with the amount of the fine varying according to whether the timing of the crime is during a time of peace or war.
The Press Syndicate strongly opposes the adoption of imprisonment as a penalty when it comes to publishing cases.
“There is a major defect when it comes to the security investigation apparatuses and agencies entrusted with levelling charges,” added El-Balshy. “Here you have a lump of charges that are levelled against individuals that make it difficult for the syndicate or other entities to intervene.”
El-Balshy also spoke of the difficult nature of reporting in the Sinai Peninsula, and mentioned that three or four complaints were recently filed in this regard. Sinai reporter Ahmed Abu Deraa and others have been explicitly targeted by security forces, especially after the adoption of the anti-terrorism law.
“Reporting from Sinai is an arduous task, almost impossible, as it is considered an enclosed military zone,” stated El-Balshy.
Alexandrani, the journalist and researcher
Alexandrani, 32, is a socio-political researcher, investigative journalist, and expert in extremists’ and Sinai affairs. He was reportedly detained upon his arrival to Hurghada on a flight from Berlin at 2pm Sunday. He was later moved to the Homeland Security Prosecution building in Cairo, where he was being questioned.
He has been working as a researcher at Paris-based Arab Reform Initiative since 2013. He won the Open Eye-Hany Darweesh Award for an exceptional essay in 2014. Earlier this year, his chapter “Violence in Sinai: the State’s War on Society and Producing Terrorism” was published in the book “l’Egypte en revolution(s)”.
According to CPJ, Alexandrani has written critically of the Egyptian military’s efforts to combat extremist militias in the Sinai including for independent newspapers Al-Safir and Al-Modon, both based in Lebanon.