In February 2018, Egyptian journalist Moataz Wadnan conducted an interview. A few days later, he was arrested. After more than a year in temporary custody, Wadan remains in solitary confinement in one of Egypt’s most notorious prisons.
Moataz Wadnan was born in Giza on November 20, 1980, and followed his passion for journalism by joining the investigative team for Al-Dustour newspaper in 2005. Since then, Wadnan has worked with many regional news outlets including Al-Badeel website, Al-Bawaba News and Baladna Today news network with a focus on investigative and political reporting. Prior to his arrest, Wadnan served as the head of the political section of HuffPost Arabi, which has since been shut down.
In February 2018, Wadnan conducted an interview with Hisham Geneina, a senior member of the presidential campaign of Sami Anan, a political rival to Egypt’s current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. In the interview, Geneina told Wadnan he possessed secret documents regarding military actions during the 2011 Egyptian revolution.
Two days after Wadnan published the interview, Geneina was arrested by the Egyptian military. Human rights lawyer Negad El-Borai said in an interview with IPI that Geneina denied telling Wadnan about the documents, but Wadnan had provided prosecutors with a recording of the interview. In April 2018 an Egyptian military court sentenced Geneina to five years in prison for spreading news that could harm the military.
On February 16, 2018, Wadnan and three of his relatives were arrested at a checkpoint outside of Cairo. His relatives were released the same day, and police told them Wadnan had been transferred to the State Security Prosecution Office. However, prosecutors denied having Wadnan in custody. After three days of confusion, one of Wadnan’s lawyers, Ezzat Ghoneim, told the media that the journalist’s whereabouts were unknown.
“It’s a very simple case, and it’s complicated at the same time because of the circumstances in Egypt right now,” said El-Borai. “According to the Egyptian law, if you publish what somebody says, it’s your responsibility too.”
Ill treatment in prison
Five days after his disappearance, Wadnan was charged with joining a terrorist group and spreading false news, and given his first 15-day detention order, to be served in Tora Prison. According to El-Borai, the only evidence the police have against Wadnan is his interview with Geneina.
Wadnan was charged as part of case number 441 for the year 2018, according to a report given to IPI by the Egyptian Observatory for Journalism and Media. Other journalists detained in this case include journalists Abel Sabri, Mohamed Abu Zeid, Mustafa Al-Aasar, Hossam El-Din Mostafa and photojournalist Islam Gomaa.
Prosecutors continued to renew Wadnan’s 15-day detention for the next few months during which time he reportedly suffered mistreatment inside the prison. In an interview with the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, Wadnan’s sister, Nody Shams, said her brother was being held in solitary confinement and denied allotted daily exercise and recreation, causing his physical health to deteriorate. Shams added that Wadnan was in need of medical attention but was denied access to the prison doctor.
Wadnan’s family was allowed to visit him only once, three months after he was detained. In the interview, Shams said that despite being in possession of a visitor permit, the family was only able to see Wadnan for five minutes before being told to leave.
On June 14, Wadnan began a hunger strike to protest his ill treatment. One month later, he informed his lawyers that four detectives had dragged and beat him in an effort to force him to end the strike.
After an initial limit on renewing Wadnan’s detention order expired in July 2018, the Cairo Criminal Court issued a new, longer detention order of 45 days. This order has been followed by a cycle of renewals that has allowed the Egyptian government to hold Wadnan in pre-trial detention for over a year, with no end in sight.
“The court renews his temporary custody for 45, 45, 45, 45 days. This is the situation right now”, El-Borai told IPI.
Lack of media freedom in Egypt
“HuffPost Arabi”, Wandnan’s former employer, ended its operations in March 2018. The closure came at a time of strict censorship amid a crackdown on media freedom in Egypt, which continues today. With the arrests of journalists on the rise and state ownership of the media increasing, independent journalism has grown scarce in the country. The enaction of oppressive new laws in Egypt have allowed the el-Sisi regime to control media coverage through the critical journalists.
Dozens of journalists, including Wadnan, remain locked in Egypt’s prisons charged with joining terrorist groups and spreading false news. Many still await trial.
Timeline of events surrounding arrest of Moataz Wadnan
1) February 11, 2018 – Interview published: During the interview, Hisham Geneina claimed to be in possession of secret documents containing details of military involvement in the violence of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.
2) February 16, 2018 – Wadnan is arrested: Wadnan was arrested with three of his relatives at a checkpoint outside of Cairo. His relatives were released the same day, but Wadan remained in custody.
3) February 19, 2018 – Wadnan disappears in custody: Police told Wadnan’s family he was transferred to the State Security Prosecution Office, but prosecutors denied having him in custody. Wadnan’s lawyer announced that his whereabouts had become unknown.
4) February 21, 2018 – Wadnan is located and charged by police: The prosecution charged him with joining a terrorist group and spreading false news, giving Wadnan his first 15-day detention order in Tora Prison.
5) June 14, 2018 – Hunger strike begins: Wadnan goes on a hunger strike to protest his ill treatment while being held in solitary confinement inside Tora prison.
6) July 7, 2018 – Wadnan informs lawyers of beating: Wadnan tells his lawyers that four detectives in Tora prison dragged and beat him to force him to break his hunger strike.
7) July 18, 2018 – Cairo Criminal Court gives him a 45-day detention order: The court has continuously renewed Wadnan’s 45-day detention order to keep him in temporary custody.