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Detention of Egyptian Human Rights Defender Hossam Bahgat

11/10/2015Statement

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(November 10, 2015 | Washington, D.C.) Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights expresses alarm at the temporary detention and attempted intimidation of Egyptian human rights defender and investigative journalist Hossam Bahgat.

Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)—one of the country's preeminent civil society organizations—was ordered detained by the military prosecution for four days pending investigation on November 9 on alleged criminal charges of publishing false news. Although he was released on November 10, Bahgat’s temporary detention and treatment by the authorities is cause for serious alarm. Bahgat, who is currently an investigative journalist for independent outlet Mada Masr, has reported on a diversity of controversial, timely issues including the recent military trial of 26 officers for plotting "regime change", the Arab Sharkas cell, and the Mubarak Mansions.

Upon receiving a summons from military intelligence that did not specify the reasons for questioning, Bahgat headed to the Military Intelligence Headquarters in Nasr City, Cairo on Sunday, November 8. He was not allowed to enter with his cellphone, bring his lawyer, or communicate with his family members and friends. After hours with military intelligence, Bahgat was transferred to military prosecution and interrogated about his most recent Mada Masr piece. On Monday, November 9, the prosecution ordered Bahgat's detention; he was told that he faced charges of "publishing false news that harms national interests and disseminating information that disturbs the public peace" under Articles 102 and 188 of the Egyptian Penal Code; at present, it is not yet clear whether the military prosecution will press ahead with the charges. While Bahgat was detained, the military prosecution refused to inform Bahgat’s lawyers of his whereabouts. He was also blindfolded, guarded by armed men, and denied information about his case. Before being released, Bahgat was coerced to sign a statement that read: “I, Hossam Bahgat, journalist at Mada Masr, declare that I will abide by legal and security procedures when publishing material pertaining to the Armed Forces.”

“The temporary arrest of Hossam Bahgat is the most recent assault in the crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists, and civil society members in Egypt,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “The United States and the international community should engage with Egypt on human rights concerns and urge the government to respect the constitutional rights of its citizens and honor its international legal obligations.”

Hossam Bahgat's arrest comes on the heels of severe constraints on rights in Egypt. A spike in forced disappearances, extended pretrial detention periods, excessive use of force by security forces, the suppression of civil liberties through legislation like the Protest Law (Law No. 107 of 2013) and the Terrorism Law (Law No. 94 of 2015), and impunity for military and security personnel who perpetrate human rights violations collectively reflect the situation on the ground.

“Detaining and harassing human rights defender Hossam Bahgat for his investigative work and subjecting him to a military legal process as a civilian is a severe violation of Egypt's domestic and international legal obligations,” said Santiago A. Canton, Executive Director of RFK Partners for Human Rights. “Under Egypt's constitution and domestic laws, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, the country owes citizens like Bahgat a duty to respect the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of opinion, and due process.”