Egyptian prosecutors on Monday ordered journalist and prominent human rights activist Hossam Bahgat be detained for four days in connection with charges of spreading false information that harms the country’s national security.
His arrest Sunday has drawn sharp criticism from rights groups and journalists who say the move is another effort by the government to battle free media.
The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Egypt to immediately release Bahgat, who has been working for the progressive independent news agency Mada Masr since last year.
“The Egyptian military has already indicated its contempt for the role of an independent media with a series of arrest of journalists. This latest detention is a clear attempt to stifle reporting,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said.
Bahgat’s arrest has been linked to an article Mada Masr published on October 26 describing a military court’s conviction of 26 officers for conspiring with the banned Muslim Brotherhood.
“He is being detained and questioned by the military prosecutor for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and must be immediately and unconditionally released,” said Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther. “The Egyptian military cannot continue to consider itself above the law and immune from criticism.”
Amnesty said in a statement Sunday it fears Bahgat may be charged and prosecuted under a law that makes it illegal to publish information that is different from official government accounts.
His case comes about two months after President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi ended a long series of trials and detentions by pardoning a group of Al Jazeera journalists who were arrested in 2013 on charges of spreading false news and aiding the Brotherhood.
The Egyptian government launched a crackdown on the Brotherhood after Sissi, then the country’s military chief, led the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Since then, much of the group’s leadership, including Morsi, has been arrested.