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Rights activist Hossam Bahgat detained on charges of “publishing false news”

CAIRO, Nov. 9 (Aswat Masriya) – On Monday military prosecution detained investigative journalist Hossam Bahgat for four days pending investigation on charges of “publishing false news that harms national interests and disseminating information that disturbs public peace,” according to the Association for Freedom of Thoughts and Expression (AFTE).

Bahgat was served a summons on Thursday at his home in Alexandria and arrived to the military intelligence headquarters in Nasr City on Sunday morning, but was not allowed initially to be accompanied by a lawyer, according to Mada Masr, where Bahgat is a regular contributor.

According to AFTE, Bahgat is facing charges based on article 102 and article 188 of the penal code. Article 102 imposes imprisonment and a fine of between EGP 50 and EGP 200, or either penalty on whoever “broadcasts deliberately false news data or tendentious rumors or propagates exciting publicity, if this is liable to disturb public security, spread horror among the people or cause harm and damage public interest”. The article proceeds that a fine of between EGP 100 and EGP 500 “shall be the inflicted penalty if the crime occurs in times of war”.

Article 188 penalizes whoever “publishes with ill will by any of the foregoing methods, false news, data or rumors or fabricated or forged papers or falsely attributed to a third party, if this is likely to disturb public peace, create fright among the people, or cause harm or damage to public interest.” The penalty includes imprisonment for a maximum of one year and a fine between EGP 5,000 and EGP 20,000.

On Sunday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on Egyptian authorities to release Bahgat. A CPJ’s publication stated that, “Egypt has used arrestslegislation, and threats in an attempt to control the media and prevent independent reporting, particularly on matters of security and terrorism.”

Human rights organization Amnesty International described in a statement Sunday the arrest of Bahgat as “another blow for freedom of expression” and “a clear signal of the Egyptian authorities’ resolve to continue with their ferocious onslaught against independent journalism and civil society”.

Human rights activist and associate director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) Heba Moryef said on Twitter that Bahgat’s detention is for “a carefully researched and accurate investigative piece he published.”

Since he started contributing to Mada Masr in 2014, Bahgat has published controversial investigative pieces, the latest of which was “A Coup Busted”, a detailed investigation of the secret military trial of 26 army officers accused of plotting "regime change" in coordination with the banned Muslim Brotherhood group, now designated a terrorist organization. He also runs a daily, often critical, press round-up also published on Mada Masr.

Before returning to journalism, Bahgat founded and was the executive director of a leading Cairo-based human rights organization The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) from 2002 to 2013. A hashtag in solidarity with Bahgat began trending on social media networks Sunday.

A version of this article originally appeared in Aswat Masriya.


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