The Journalists Against Torture Observatory (JATO) issued Monday its third quarterly report on violations committed against reporters and photojournalists in Egypt.
Out of a total 106 attacks on journalists that were traced, JATO said it documented 100 cases through its fieldwork team. Out of those, 59 violations took place in July, 18 in August, and 23 in September.
However, JATO stated it faced several obstacles while collecting information, mainly related to the security crackdown.
“[There was an] intentional concealment of information. Some journalists who were victimised were further threatened by security personnel or members of their affiliated media institutions. The political and security crackdown on civil society … restricted their access to information. Some provided testimonies that were undermined or exaggerated, according to the intellectual, personal, and political reasons of each victim,” JATO’s report said.
More than a dozen journalists behind bars
The report includes others who work in the media field, such as researcher and TV host Islam El-Beheiry, who is currently serving a one-year prison term after being sued by Al-Azhar on charges of “contempt of religion”.
The report said there were four other journalists serving prison terms. It demanded their unconditional release, as well as the release of 13 journalists detained because of their work.
According to JATO, the journalists face charges directly related to their profession such as publishing false news, incitement, libel, and defamation. They include recently detained Hamdy Al-Zaeem, Mohamed Hassan, and Osama El-Beshbeshy.
Al-Zaeem and Hassan work for Al-Nabaa News while El-Beshbeshy is a photojournalist for Balady News. The trio was arrested on 26 September while shooting a video in the vicinity of the Press Syndicate in downtown Cairo. They were accused of photographing without a licence. Their detention has been renewed every 15 days since their arrest.
Among the recently arrested was also Zoom News photojournalist Omar Adel, whose family claimed to have been denied information on his whereabouts during the first days of his detention in August.
As for older detainees, Mahmoud Abou Zeid Shawkan—who has been held in remand since August 2013, one of the longest recorded periods—remains behind bars as his trial slowly unfolds. Shawkan was arrested while covering the bloody dispersal of pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters in Rabaa Al-Adaweya.
Despite being the only journalist among more than 700 other defendants, and despite his name becoming one of the most popular among international reports on press freedom in Egypt, there has been no change in Shawkan’s situation since his arrest.
Journalist and researcher Ismail Alexandrani has been detained for over 10 months. On Saturday, his detention was renewed for another 45 days, amid a series of extensions since his arrest.
The prosecution has accused Alexandrani of belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood, spreading false information and rumours with the aim of terrorising people.
There are also Abdullah Al-Fakharany and Samhy Mostafa from Rassd news network, whom were among 13 journalists to have been handed life in prison, and one the death penalty, in the case publicly known as the “Rabaa operations room”.
Rassd reporter Mahmoud Abdel Naby is also detained after being arrested in July 2013 while covering clashes in Alexandria. The journalist was put in solitary confinement as part of his detention in Borg Al-Arab prison.
Others include Abdul Rahman Yaqot, a photojournalist working for Karmoz website, arrested in March 2015 in Alexandria. Yaqot faced charges in two different cases. In September 2016, he was acquitted from protest charges.
According to a JATO spokesperson, Yaqot is still detained over charges of setting fire to a police station.
El Badil journalist Sabry Anwar was arrested in a raid on his house in February. “Given Egypt’s denials that Anwar is in police custody and his allegations of torture, we are extremely concerned for the journalist’s safety,” the Committee to Protect Journalist’s (CPJ) Middle East and North Africa Programme Coordinator Sherif Mansour said back in March.
JATO’s spokesperson told Daily News Egypt Monday that Anwar was recently transferred from a Central Security Forces (CSF) detention centre in Damietta to Gamasa prison. His lawyers are still denied access to a copy of the investigations, thus not knowing the charges for his detention. Anwar’s detention has been extended every 15 days.
Ahmed Mansi from Sot Al-Umma newspaper was arrested in July while covering an event on Al-Moez Street near the capital’s tourist hotspot Khan El-Khalili. The JATO spokesperson who spoke to Daily News Egypt Thursday said that he faced accusations of joining an illegal group, as well as dealing with pro-Muslim Brotherhood channels Al-Jazeera network and Mekameleen.
Categorisation of violations, according to damages
Some types of violations against journalists are common and have been repeated in JATO’s reports, such as banning journalists from covering certain events. In fact, this violation scored 36 among the total 106 cases.
It was followed by 16 cases of physical assaults, 10 cases where journalists were stopped and searched, 7 cases of insults and threats, and 7 cases where official complaints were filed against them to prosecution authorities. The list includes at least 12 violations, which vary from security and judicial prosecution to harassment and censorship.
Interestingly, JATO categorised the types of damages derived from such assaults. It established the types of damages to the victims as following: physical, moral (in the case of detention and investigations, for instance), professional (for example, police deleting content from a camera), judicial prosecution (at risk of being sent to jail) and, last but not least, material damages.
Throughout its report, JATO spoke of pressure and penalties on journalists practiced by their own institutions, such as disciplinary committees.
“Different institutions are committing violations against journalists on a daily basis as if there is no law to be applied which could protect their rights and freedoms,” the report said, calling on authorities to release detained journalists and on the Press Syndicate to have a more significant role in protecting journalists.
But the syndicate itself is currently having a hard time with the state, as its leaders are on trial and the outrageous police storming of their syndicate has not been rejected by the state.