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Rights advocate says Egypt army releases journalist

Hossam Bahgat is one of Egypt’s best-known rights advocates and investigative journalists

Published: Updated:

A human rights advocate says Egyptian authorities have released a leading investigative journalist and human rights advocate who had been detained under accusations of spreading “false news.”

Heba Morayef, associate director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, announced on social media Tuesday the release of Hossam Bahgat, who was detained Sunday after being summoned to an intelligence building in Cairo.

Bahgat is one of Egypt’s best-known rights advocates. He founded the group Morayef in 2002, and has been honored with a Human Rights Watch Alison Des Forges Award in 2011.

No further information was available in the immediate moments after Bahgat’s release.

The army has said that Bahgat was referred to military trial for “compromising national security” and writing about the military without its written permission.

Earlier on Monday, Bahgat’s lawyers said the military is holding him in an undisclosed location while he faces charges of spreading “false news.”

Adel Ramadan, one of the lawyers, said military prosecutors would not tell him the whereabouts of Hossam Bahgat, who was detained Sunday after being summoned to an intelligence building in Cairo.

Bahgat is one of Egypt’s best-known rights advocates. He founded the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights in 2002, was honored with a Human Rights Watch Alison Des Forges Award in 2011, and just returned to Egypt after spending a year as a visiting fellow at Columbia University’s journalism school in New York.

Media crackdown

The detention, which caused a wave of uproar on social media and among activists, is part of a sweeping crackdown on critical media launched in the aftermath of the military overthrow of former President Mohammad Mursi in 2013.

Ramadan said prosecutors asked Bahgat in detail about an article he wrote last month which described the August 2015 conviction of a group of military officers on charges of conspiring with Mursi’s banned Muslim Brotherhood to plot a coup against President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.

“I asked the head of the military prosecution the place of detention, and was told I would not be told,” Ramadan said, adding that prosecutors have ordered Bahgat held until at least Wednesday, when his lawyers have been summoned for another meeting.

“Nobody knows what will happen then — maybe he will be released, maybe they will hold him longer,” he said.

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Mohamed Samir said Bahgat has been referred to military trial for “compromising national security” and writing about the army without written permission from its leadership. If found guilty, Bahgat could serve up to one year in prison and/or pay a fine of up to $2,500, he said.

Since Mursi’s overthrow, Bahgat has written a series of highly detailed and meticulously researched investigative pieces, including the article in question. That article was based on official documents, including the military prosecutor’s indictment, and interviews with the military officers’ families.

Concerns

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon expressed concern over the detention.

“This is just the latest of a series of detentions of human rights defenders and others that is profoundly worrying to the secretary-general,” Ban’s spokesman in New York said. “The secretary-general again underscores the importance of safeguarding freedom of speech and association in Egypt.”

In response, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry denounced the U.N. chief’s statements. A spokesperson said: “According to Egytian law, the accused shall be presumed innocent before the law until proven guilty, and that the further detention of Hossam Bahgat is pending investigations.”