Egyptian journalist Hossam Bahgat calls for end to military trial of civilians after 2-day detention

Ahram Online , Tuesday 10 Nov 2015

Hossam Bahgat with Yara Sallam
Hossam Bahgat was congratulated on his release by activist Yara Sallam (R) and other journalists and activists at the headquarter of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Cairo, Egypt, 10 November 2015 (Photo: Courtesy of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Twitter account)

Egyptian investigative journalist and human rights activist Hossam Bahgat was released from the custody of military prosecution on Tuesday, two days after his detention on charges of "publishing false news aimed at harming national security."

Hours following his release, Bahgat posted on his official Facebook page accounts of what he experienced while in custody.

He said he was questioned by a military prosecution regarding the publishing of an article related to the Egyptian army in Mada Masr website in October last year.

"I have signed a written acknowledgement that stipulates that I shall commit to all legal and security measures in the dissemination of information related to the Armed Forces and that I was not subjected to any physical or mental harm during my period of detention," Bahgat's post read.

The human rights activist and journalist added that he does not yet know the possible penalty for the charges he is facing according to criminal law.

He also said that during the investigation, prosecutors kept highlighting that Bahgat is not a member of the Journalists Syndicate and is thus not eligible to any of its legal protection or even the right to work as a journalist.

"I stress again the rejection of any sort of criminalizing journalism and imprisoning journalists ... and trying civilians before military courts," he added. 

Naser Amin, one of the lawyers who attended the questioning of Bahgat, told Ahram Online that his client was "released pending investigation, yet without bail."

Flurry of condemnation

Bahgat has become a contributor for Mada Masr since  2014, writing prominent stories like The Arab Sharkas Cell: The quasi-covert trial of Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, The Mubarak Mansions, and Who Let the Jihadis Out?

Military prosecutors summoned Bahgat on Sunday for questioning. Keeping him in custody overnight, they ordered his detention for four days on Monday.

Before his surprise release the next day, Bahgat's detention provoked a flurry of condemnation online and amongst rights activists and local and international rights watchdogs, with calls for his immediate release.

Amnesty International said that Bahgat's arrest was a clear signal of the Egyptian authorities' "resolve to continue with their ferocious onslaught against independent journalism and civil society".

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said on Monday Bahgat's detention is "the latest in a series of detentions of human rights defenders and others that are profoundly worrying," while calling for safeguarding freedom of speech and association in Egypt.

Egypt's Foreign Ministry spokesperson on Tuesday, right before Bahgat’s release, denounced Ban's comments, saying his statement had "jumped to conclusions and assumptions" over freedom of expression, adding that Bahgat was questioned in association with "clear violations" of the country's penal code.

The spokesperson did not specify what these violations were.

Since the 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, Bahgat has written a series of thoroughly-researched investigative articles both in English and Arabic.

Bahgat, 37, founded the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), an independent human rights organisation, in 2002 and received the Human Rights Watch Alison Des Forges Award in 2011.

EIPR released a photo Tuesday afternoon showing Bahgat's colleagues celebrating his release, including the organisation's lawyer Yara Sallam, who was freed from jail in September.

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