Egypt accused of two journalists’ enforced disappearance

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on Egypt to release two journalists who disappeared about two weeks ago only to reappear days later when they were brought before a court and placed in pre-trial detention on charges including “spreading false news”.

Freelance photojournalist Hamdi Al-Zaeem was the first Egyptian journalist to be subjected to an enforced disappearance in 2021 after being arrested at his home on January 04.

The other journalist, Ahmed Khalifa, disappeared on January 06 according to Masr360, the news website for which he covers labour issues.

Both appeared last week before a state security court accused of “spreading fake news” and “belonging to a terror group”.

“These two enforced disappearances in the space of a few days show the degree to which the treatment of journalists violates international law,” said Sabrina Bennoui, head of the RSF Middle East desk said on Thursday.

“In addition to detaining journalists, the authorities no longer even trouble to inform their families or tell them why they have been detained.”

The government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former general who led the 2013 overthrow of former president Mohamed Morsi, has launched an on-going crackdown on journalists, human rights defenders and opposition figures aimed at quashing dissent.

With 30 journalists currently in jail, Egypt ranks 166th out of 180 countries on RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

Zaeem was previously jailed on similar charges in 2016 and released in 2018. A diabetic, he had shown COVID-19 symptoms but not been tested while he was held in a Cairo hospital isolation unit, said RSF.

Khalifa, a social affairs editor at news site Masr 360 who had recently covered labour protests, disappeared after responding to orders to report to the domestic security office in Fayoum, 100km south of Cairo.

Lawyers and relatives said they did not know where he was until he showed up in the same court as Zaeem on Jan 19.

The two journalists are now believed to be held in Cairo’s notorious Tora prison, Gamal Eid, head of local rights group Arab Network for Human Rights Information, told AFP.

The maximum security prison, which rights groups say is overcrowded and unsanitary, houses many of Egypt’s high-profile dissidents. (Source: The Straits Times)

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