Egypt detains more journalists on ‘fake news’ charges, most recently ‘Mounir’

Egypt has maintained its policy of detaining journalists on charges of spreading ‘false news’. The country has already been named the third worst jailer of journalists by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Egyptian authorities detained a prominent local journalist Monday on charges of spreading fake news, his lawyer said, in another government crackdown on press freedom.

Mohamed Mounir, 65, was taken by plainclothes security officers from his apartment in Giza, his family said in a statement.

Over the weekend, Mounir had posted surveillance footage on his Facebook page, showing scores of heavily armed police officers breaking into his home to search it when he wasn’t there.

He later appeared before state security prosecutors who ordered his 15-day pretrial detention on charges of spreading fake news, joining a terrorist group and misusing social media, said his lawyer, Nabeh el-Ganadi.

Mounir is editor-in-chief of Al-Diyar newspaper and a former deputy editor of the pro-government Youm7 newspaper, among other outlets, his lawyer said.

The interior ministry did not respond to a request for comment on the case.

Mounir’s family said he had been interviewed recently by Al Jazeera TV, a Qatari-owned channel banned by Egypt’s government, but meant no harm by it. His lawyer did not comment on his connection to the broadcaster.

After the 2013 ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi amid mass protests against his one-year rule, Egyptian officials shut down the Al Jazeera network and detained many of its reporters, accusing the outlet of providing a platform for Egypt’s enemies, particularly the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group.

Mounir’s arrest drew sharp condemnation from the global press advocacy group CPJ, as well as the local journalists’ union.

“Egyptian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release journalist Mohamed Mounir and drop these baseless charges,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour. “Mounir is already in failing health, and to detain him pending trial during a pandemic is exceptionally cruel.”

The group also noted that Mounir had criticized the Egyptian government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic on Al Jazeera. Rights groups have repeatedly raised alarm that Egyptian authorities are using the pandemic as cover to escalate their clampdown.

Several members of the Egyptian journalists’ union called for an emergency board meeting to discuss the “siege imposed on freedom of the press”, noting that Mounir is the fourth union member to be arrested in the recent weeks.

“The authorities know that those who are arrested have no connection to acts of violence or incitement to it,” board member Mohamed Saad Abdel Hafiz wrote on Facebook.

“Silencing everyone and spreading fear is their goal, not only for journalists, but for all those who express an opinion or different position in this country.”

General-turned-president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has overseen a sweeping crackdown on dissent, suppressing critics and jailing thousands.

Egyptian authorities have been accused of using flimsy terrorism charges to imprison political and social opponents.

The government has previously denied human rights violations and justified arrests on national security grounds.