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Hossam Bahgat released, but fears remain over charges against him

Arbitrary detention of prominent activist highlights escalating crackdown on independent journalists and human rights defenders

10 November 2015

Leading Egyptian journalist and human rights defender Hossam Bahgat was released from detention today following a swift and coordinated civil society response to his detention by military authorities two days ago. While welcoming his release, CESR remains deeply concerned at the motivation and circumstances of his detention, and at the failure of the authorities to clarify whether the charges against him have formally been dropped.

Hossam Bahgat, who is founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a regular contributor to the independent media outlet Mada Masr and Chair of the International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net), was taken into custody and interrogated by military intelligence officers on 8 November. Later that day he was brought before the military prosecutor’s office where he was accused of “deliberately spreading false information with the purpose of harming public order and public interest” and “publishing, with malicious intent, false news that is likely to disturb public order”, under Articles 102 and 188 of the Penal Code.

According to a statement made on his release, he was denied requests to contact his family, lawyer or colleagues. His interrogation focused wholly on a report he had published in Mada Masr on 14 October regarding the secret military trial of 26 army officers convicted of plotting to overthrow the government. He was held for two nights in military custody, where he claims his repeated requests to be informed of his legal status and the nature of the proceedings against him were ignored.  

According to the statement, at noon today he was taken blindfolded to military intelligence, where he was informed that the military prosecution had ordered his detention for four days. However, he was told that he would be released immediately after signing a document stating that he would “abide by legal and security procedures when publishing material pertaining to the Armed Forces," and that he had not been subjected to any moral or physical harm. Following his release, it remained unclear whether investigations would proceed under the above-mentioned charges or whether these would be dropped.

As an internationally renowned human rights defender, Hossam Bahgat’s arrest provoked broad and immediate condemnation from civil society organizations in Egypt and across the globe, as well as from the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon.

“I was lucky to receive an outpouring of solidarity and sympathy, which guaranteed a degree of relatively better treatment during my detention,” he said in his statement. “I can only thank all the lawyers, colleagues, friends, comrades and Egyptian and international organizations that expressed their support and offered me their assistance. I wish for freedom for the thousands of people unfairly detained in Egyptian prisons. I reassert my rejection of the criminalization of journalistic work, the use of the Penal Code to imprison journalists, and the trial of civilians in military courts.”

Hossam Bahgat’s detention and interrogation follow a pattern of increasing repression against journalists and human rights defenders in Egypt. As most cannot rely on such broad pressure being brought to bear on their behalf, the case may have a further intimidatory effect on civil society as a whole. Since President al-Sisi came to power in June 2014, restrictions on freedom of expression and association, coupled with the broad application of military jurisdiction, have been used to silence dissent and restrict the space to defend human rights.

CESR has been working with Egyptian human rights organizations including EIPR to draw attention to the deteriorating economic and social rights situation in the country since the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, but the crackdown against them has posed a serious obstacle to their attempts to hold the authorities accountable at both the national and international levels. 

On the occasion of Egypt’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in November 2014, the UN Human Rights Council called on Egypt to guarantee an environment conducive to the work of human rights defenders and civil society organizations, after the threat of reprisals prevented Egyptian human rights organizations from physically participating in the review. While the Egyptian government agreed to abide by the UPR recommendations, the detention of Hossam Bahgat – arbitrary both in its motivation and in its flouting of basic guarantees of due process – has made a mockery of these commitments.

CESR calls on the Egyptian authorities to clarify that all charges against Hossam Bahgat have been dropped. It also calls on them to ensure that human rights defenders, journalists and civil society organizations are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear of arbitrary detention, harassment or intimidation, and that all detainees are provided with full guarantees for their safety and for due process, in line with Egypt’s obligations under international human rights standards.

  • To learn more about CESR's work in Egypt see here.