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Egypt jails four journalists for 'false reporting'

Sisi has been mocked for his calls for spare change to fund charitable projects [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 October, 2016

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Last year Egypt jailed a total of 23 journalists, making it the second-worst jailer of journalists in the world, behind China.
Egyptian police detained three journalists conducting interviews in downtown Cairo about President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s request for donations of spare change to fund development programmes in the country.

Hamdy Mokhtar, Mohammed Hassan, and Osama al-Bishbishi were arrested on September 26 and have been accused of publishing false news and belonging to a banned organisation, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The three were in police custody for three days and have since been charged with belonging to a banned organisation – a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood – inciting violence and terrorism online, and publishing false news. Prosecutors ordered them held in pretrial detention for a renewable 15 days.

According to al-Naba’a, an Egyptian news website and Hassan’s employer, security forces arrested all three on the spot without giving a clear reason. Al-Bishbishi is a photographer and cameraman with the news website Baladi, whilst Mokhtar is a freelance photographer known for his work with the newspaper el-Shaab el-Jadeed, generally viewed as being sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Hassan's lawyer has since said that all three journalists had been beaten, kicked, and electrocuted in police custody.

A fourth journalist, Noura Nasser, was arrested a day later on September 27 while interviewing university graduates protesting outside the Cabinet’s office to demand greater job opportunities, reported The Associated Press.

According to the New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Nasser was also accused of publishing false news, and has also since been released.

Of the four detained journalists Mokhtar has previously been arrested by Egpytian police. In July 2015 he was arrested at the state morgue in Cairo while reporting on the arrival of the bodies of Muslim Brotherhood leaders allegedly killed by security services in cold blood during a raid on an apartment block in a suburban district of Cairo that July.

Mokhtar consequently spent two months in prison before being released on bail. However he was sentenced in absentia for three years in jail once again accused of publishing false news, according to CPJ.

Egyptians have responded with bemusement to calls made by Sisi on Monday for citizens to donate their spare change to fund charitable projects, and the Egyptian president has faced ridicule for the suggestion on social media.

During his speech at a ceremony for the launch of a housing project in Alexandria, Sisi called on citizens to donate spare change and fractions of cheques they cash at banks claiming that the accumulated total across the country could amount to millions of pounds.

Referring to the Alexandria housing project funded by a group of businessmen and donations from the National Bank of Egypt, Sisi voiced thoughts that loose change could fund similar social projects.

In a statement released on Friday CPJ called on the Egyptian government to drop all charges against the four reporters. 

"The delusion that jailing journalists on charges of reporting 'false news' for interviewing people on the street or photographing a protest will change reality is a false hope," said Joel Simon, the group's executive director.

Last year Egypt jailed a total of 23 journalists, according to CPJ, making it the second-worst jailer of journalists in the world, behind China. 

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