The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and journalists, today urged the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and the U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, to raise the issue of jailed journalists with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Al-Sisi, who is also the current chairperson of the African Union, is in Japan to co-chair the Tokyo International Conference on African Development from August 29 to 30 attended by some 20 African leaders. Guterres will also take part in the conference.
Egypt has nearly three dozen journalists in prison, including Al Sayed Mohamed Omar Toufic, also known as Ismail Alexandrani, Moataz Wadnan and Mahmoud Hussein of Al Jazeera.
“Prime Minister Abe and Secretary General Guterres should urge President al-Sisi to release all imprisoned journalists and fully comply with international principles on the rights of defendants in criminal proceedings”, IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad. “Development in any country is possible only with the full participation of an informed population. By clamping down on press freedom and arresting critical journalists, President al-Sisi is not only violating international principles, he is also denying the Egyptian public’s right to information.”
Ismail Alexandrani was detained on November 22, 2015 and has spent over 1,360 days in prison. He has been accused of belonging to a banned group and spreading false news. In January 2018, Alexandrani’s case was referred to a military prosecutor. Unconfirmed reports claimed that Alexandrani was sentenced to 10 years in prison in May 2018. His current whereabouts are not known, and the government of Egypt has refused to respond to requests about his well-being.
Mahmoud Hussein was arrested on December 20, 2016 and will complete 1,000 days in detention on September 16. An Egyptian court ordered Hussein’s release on May 21; however, Egyptian authorities have refused to release Hussein and have returned him to Tora Prison, displaying blatant disregard for the rule of law. In January 2018 the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention classified Hussein’s imprisonment as arbitrary and said the conditions of his detention amounted to “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment.
Moataz Wadnan was arrested on February 16, 2018, after he conducted an interview with Hisham Geneina, a senior member of the presidential campaign of Sami Anan, a political rival to President el-Sisi. In the interview, Geneina told Wadnan he possessed secret documents regarding military actions during the 2011 Egyptian revolution. After Geneina was arrested by the military police, two days after the interview, he denied making the statement. This development led to the arrest of Wadnan, who is currently being held in Tora Prison.
Besides these journalists, there are several others who are in prison. In many cases, their families are afraid to speak up because of the fear of reprisal.
Egypt has systematically denied journalists rights to due process and a fair trial, holding them for years without official charges and denying them the right to legal counsel.