The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today urged Egypt to release all detained journalists amid concerns over the spread of Covid-19 in prisons.
More than 60 journalists are currently being detained in different Egyptian prisons, which are overcrowded and have woefully inadequate medical facilities. Prisoners do not have access to medical care. Those jailed include IPI member and Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein, who has been in prison for nearly 1,200 days and was denied access to treatment when he broke his arm in prison.
Last month Egyptian authorities released a few opposition leaders from prison following the outbreak Covid-19, but journalists and human rights activists continue to languish in jails exposed to the threat of infection, despite being detained on spurious, politically motivated grounds.
“In addition to unjust detention, Egypt’s jailed journalists now face serious health risks as the coronavirus continues to spread”, IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said. “Egypt must prevent this unnecessary suffering – and potentially grave consequences – for these journalists and their families and ensure that all jailed journalists are freed.”
Most journalists in Egypt are being held without any charges or face accusations of spreading “fake news” or supporting banned groups. Many journalists have disappeared in the custody of security forces and the government has not revealed their whereabouts despite pleas from the families.
Separately, IPI remains deeply concerned over Egypt’s efforts to restrict the free flow of news and information about the pandemic. Last month, the authorities first revoked the press credentials of The Guardian journalist Ruth Michaelson and later forced her to leave the country, over a March 15 report stating that infections in Egypt could be much higher than the government-reported figures. The report was based on a study conducted by academics of the University of Toronto, which a number of Egyptian scientists and the government have rejected.
“Egyptian authorities must guarantee the free flow of independent news so as to inform Egyptians about the vital measures being taken to contain the spread of the virus in the country, as well as to maintain open dialogue about the efficacy of these measures”, Prasad said. “Independent media are crucial to an effective public health response.”