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Egypt: Journalist and Human Rights Activist Released from Military Detention

(Nov. 16, 2015) On November 10, 2015, the Office of the Military Prosecution issued a temporary release for Hossam Bahgat, a journalist and human rights activist, who had been in detention for two days. Before his release, Bahgat had to sign a document stating that he must abide by all legal and security procedures when publishing materials pertaining to the Egyptian armed forces. He also signed another affidavit stating that he was not subject to any physical or psychological torture while in custody. (Hossam Bahgat, A Statement by Hossam Bahgat on His Military Detention, Interrogation, MADA MASR (Nov. 12, 2015.)

Background

Before being detained, Bahgat had received a notice from the military intelligence that he was a person of interest and needed to be questioned. After being questioned for more than nine hours by military intelligence officers, Bahgat was referred to the Office of the Military Prosecution. The Office accused Bahgat of violating articles 102 and 188 of the Penal Code. (Id.) Article 102 stipulates that whoever spreads “news, statements, [or] rumors” that aim to “endanger the “national peace and spread fear” can face prison sentences or a fine. Article 188 punishes whoever publishes flawed reports or fabricated papers to “disseminate information that disturbs the public interest” with a term of imprisonment and a fine. (Law No. 59 of 1937 (as last amended 2011), Egyptian Court of Cassation website (in Arabic).) The Office charged Bahgat with publishing news that will damage Egypt’s reputation, publishing information that will endanger the public well-being and disturb social peace, and publishing false news about the Egyptian armed forces. (Detention of Hossam Bahgat Sparks Anger, DAILY NEWS EGYPT (Nov. 9, 2015).)

Bahgat is the founder of a human rights organization called the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. The organization had criticized the President of Egypt, Abdu al-Fatah al-Sisi, and what Bahgat called “the military rule of Egypt.” (Hussam Bahgat, Who Called for the End of the Military Rule of Egypt, Is Currently in the Hands of a Military Entity After a Series of Investigative Reports About the Egyptian Military, CNN ARABIC (Nov. 9, 2015) (in Arabic).) Furthermore, he wrote a series of investigative reports on sensitive topics concerning the Egyptian military, including the trial of a group of military officers accused of plotting a coup against the Sisi regime and the treatment of suspects accused of committing terrorist offenses. Recently, he wrote an article that criticized the government’s handling of the Russian plane crash incident in Sharm al-Sheikh. (Max Fisher, An Activist Once Called the Last True Liberal in Egypt Was Arrested by the Military on Sunday, VOX (updated Nov. 9, 2015).)

Reaction to the Detention

Following the detention of Hossam Bahgat, non-government organizations and human rights activists expressed their concern over and rejection of Bahgat’s arrest and the charges issued by the military prosecution. They described his arrest and the accusations against him as a violation of article 65 of the Egyptian Constitution of 2014. (Kareem Fahim, Egypt Extends Detention of a Journalist, Hossam Bahgat, NEW YORK TIMES (Nov. 9, 2015).) Article 65 states, “[f]reedom of thought and opinion is guaranteed. Every person shall have the right to express his/her opinion verbally, in writing, through imagery, or by any other means of expression and publication.” (Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt 2014, INFORMATION SERVICES (Egyptian government website).)