Colin McConnell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Egypt military detains leading activist journalist

Hossam Bahgat is being held on accusations of spreading false news in reporting on a failed military coup

Egypt arrested a prominent journalist and human rights advocate on Sunday after he was questioned by military intelligence over a report he published about a trial of former army officers, security sources said.

They said Hossam Bahgat was summoned over charges of publishing false information in an October report about the 26 officers he said were convicted by a military court for plotting a coup.

"The Egyptian military has already indicated its contempt for the role of an independent media with a series of arrests of journalists. This latest detention is a clear attempt to stifle reporting," read a statement from Sherif Mansour, the Middle East coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Human Rights Watch describes Bahgat, the founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, as "a leading defender of civil rights and liberties in Egypt" who played a prominent role in the 2011 revolution that toppled longtime President Hosni Mubarak.

Bahgat, who recently worked as a journalist for Mada Masr, wrote a story in October detailing the conviction of the 26 officers but cautioned that "in the absence of any official or published information about the investigations, it is not possible to confirm or deny the accuracy of the charges leveled against the defendants." 

He has been an outspoken proponent of human rights and civil society in Egypt, often pointing out government failings, such as how the state handled the violent August 2013 clearing of sit-ins held in support of deposed President Mohamed Morsi — which, according to Human Rights Watch resulted in the deaths of more than 800 protesters.

He criticized the government for failing to minimize casualties and violence, telling Al Jazeera on the day of the clearings, "As predicted, the authorities proved unable to deal with the security fallout, stop the violence taking place in many residential areas in different cities or prevent retaliatory attacks against Christians' homes, property and churches in Upper Egypt and elsewhere." 

Amnesty International said Bahgat's arrest was a clear signal of the determination of Egyptian authorities "to continue with their ferocious onslaught against independent journalism and civil society."

Human rights groups accuse President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, who as military chief deposed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who was freely elected, of exploiting security threats to roll back political freedoms won in the 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak.

"The arrest of Hossam Bahgat today is yet another nail in the coffin for freedom of expression in Egypt," said Philip Luther, the director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Amnesty International.

Bahgat founded the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, an independent human rights organization. 

His detention follows a wave of crackdowns against journalist arrests in Egypt, which, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, resulted in the arrests of three journalists in five days last month.

Al Jazeera and wire services


Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter


Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter