Sarah Rafea / AP

Egypt releases journalist Hossam Bahgat after interrogation

Bahgat, a reporter and activist, was arrested on charges of broadcasting false information deemed harmful to the public

Egyptian journalist and human rights advocate Hossam Bahgat has been freed from detention, having been arrested and questioned by military intelligence Sunday in a move that elicited widespread condemnation.

Bahgat was released around midday Tuesday, according to Mada Masr, an independent Egyptian news website for which he writes. It is unclear if the charges against him are still pending.

Security sources said Bahgat received a summons last week to report for questioning on Sunday. After being questioned he was arrested and transferred to the military prosecutor, they said.

The reporter was charged with the intentionally broadcasting false information harmful to the public interest and inciting insecurity, Mada Masr reported. Bahgat has often published articles critical of the Egyptian government.

Bahgat, who began writing for Mada Masr in 2014, was the founding executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights — a Cairo-based human rights organization. 

"He called me and said he's been released from the military intelligence building," said Gasser Abdel-Razek, head of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told AFP news agency.

His release came after he signed a document which said, “I, Hossam Bahgat, journalist at Mada Masr, declare that I will abide by legal and security procedures when publishing material pertaining to the Armed Forces," Mada Masr reported. “I was also not subjected to any moral or physical harm,” the signing statement also read. 

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights had called for his immediate release, while Amnesty International said Bahgat’s interrogation was “a clear signal of the Egyptian authorities’ resolve to continue with their ferocious onslaught against independent journalism and civil society.”

Critics have drawn attention to the fact that Hossam Bahgat’s arrest came just weeks after an article was published on the site of Mada Masr that investigated the secret military trial of 26 officers for allegedly planning to overthrow the current government in coordination with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi took power in 2013 in a military coup, deposing the government of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected leader of Egypt. Sisi has since led a widespread purge of Brotherhood members, imprisoning and drawing up charges against senior and rank and file members, and pushing much of the movement underground.

Human rights groups accuse Sisi of exploiting security threats to roll back the political freedoms won in the 2011 uprising that toppled former strongman Hosni Mubarak.

With wire services

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