Egyptian military releases prominent human rights advocate

Egypt’s military releases prominent human rights advocate and journalist, after detaining him for ‘disseminating false news'

Photo by: Social Media
Photo by: Social Media

Hossam Bahgat, Egyptian journalist and human rights advocate

The Egyptian military prosecutor has finally released prominent journalist and human rights advocate Hossam Bahgat. It was announced on Tuesday that his detainment was elongated for an additional four days, but reports of his release later followed.

Bahgat’s lawyer and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali announced the release via his twitter account.

Bahgat was arrested on Sunday after first receiving a summons order from the Egyptian military prosecution four days earlier. He was detained in an undisclosed location. Bahgat founded the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), an independent human rights organisation.

His lawyers and various rights groups, both local and international, have been strongly demanding his release since Sunday. Bahgat’s case even garnered attention from the UN chief Ban Ki-Moon, who commented on Monday.

"Bahgat’s arrest is the latest in a series of detentions of human rights defenders and others that are profoundly worrying," said Ki-Moon. The Egyptian foreign ministry later denounced the comments made by the UN chief, saying Ki-Moon’s statement "jumped to conclusions and assumptions relating to the exercise of freedom of expression, which is guaranteed for all Egyptians by the constitution”.

The military prosecutor has filed charges regarding "false news" spreading against Bahgat. Possibly as a result of an investigative report Bahgat published at Mada Masr in October. In the report, the human rights advocate examined what he called the secret military trial of 26 army officers who reportedly plotted a coup.

Since Egypt’s first democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi was deposed in July 2013, and former army general and current President Abdel Fattah el Sisi came to power, Egyptian authorities have cracked down on journalists and press workers.

"This is a bellwether moment for Egypt," Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement on Monday.

"Continuing to hold Hossam Bahgat or putting him on trial would be a definitive signal that Sisi and his government have no interest in rolling back the repression of the past two years."

According to HRW, more than 3,700 civilians have been charged in military courts since October 2014, when Sisi expanded the jurisdiction of military courts for a two-year period.

Egyptian journalists that have suffered under the current circumstances include Mohamed Fahmy and Mohamed Baher -who were pardoned on September 23, after more than a year in detention- had been working in Al Jazeera’s English bureau in Cairo during the June 30 anti-Morsi protests in 2013.

They were arrested and given 10 years in jail on June 2014, then given a shorter sentence of 3 years after a prolonged appeal a year later.

The Egyptian government had accused Fahmy and Baher, and their colleague (Australian journalist Peter Greste) of shooting and broadcasting material harmful to Egypt’s internal security.

Other journalists remain in custody with no definitive dates for trials, like photo journalist Mahmoud Shawkan, who was arrested during the brutal Rabia camp dispersal in August 2013. Shawkan was covering the incident when he was detained by the Egyptian police. He's family reports that his health has been deteriorating significantly since entering the detention centre because of its poor conditions. 

TRTWorld and agencies