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The New Arab

Guardian journalist forced to flee Egypt after coronavirus story

The story cited a study that estimated more coronavirus cases than Egyptian authorities reported [AFP]

Date of publication: 26 March, 2020

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A Guardian journalist was forced to leave Egypt after a coronavirus report infuriated authorities.
Guardian journalist had to leave Egypt after authorities' fury over a report citing a scientific study that said Egypt was likely to have many more coronavirus cases than reported by authorities, the outlet stated on Thursday.

The journalist, Ruth Michaelson, was advised last week by Western diplomats that Egypt's security services wanted her out of the country immediately, the Guardian said.

Michaelson's March 15 report cited a study from University of Toronto infectious disease specialists, which estimated an outbreak size of 19,310 cases in Egypt.

The country has confirmed 456 coronavirus cases as of Thursday.

Egyptian authorities reacted with outrage, claiming the study in question contains "incorrect numbers and estimates" and that Egypt has been transparent in its reports to the World Health Organisation.

The Guardian said it offered Egyptian authorities a chance to write a letter for publication rebutting its report or the Canadian study, but received no response.

On March 17, Egypt's State Information Service (SIS) revoked Michaelson's press accreditation and demanded an apology from the Guardian.

The SIS also issued a warning to New York Times Cairo bureau chief Declan Walsh over a now-deleted tweet that shared the Canadian study.

Read more: Comment: As coronavirus spreads in Egypt, Sisi puts the truth on lockdown

The next day, British diplomatic officials and the SIS told Michaelson she needed to meet Egypt’s visa issuance authority.

Michaelson, who is a German citizen, said German diplomatic officials in Cairo advised her not to attend the meeting under any circumstances.

“They said, ‘We do not believe it’s safe for you to go to this meeting. You’re at high risk of arrest and you should get on a plane,’” Michaelson told the Guardian.

Additionally, the journalist said she was advised by the British embassy and her own contacts that members of Egypt's security apparatus were seeking to immediately remove her from the country.

Flights out of Egypt were due to be suspended the following day, Thursday, but Michaelson managed to leave the country on a flight taking stranded tourists and foreign nationals to Germany on Friday.

Michaelson has lived in and reported from Egypt since 2014, the Guardian said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a US-based press freedom organisation, said accurate information about the COVID-19 pandemic "should not be stifled for political convenience", as it is of "life or death importance" to Egyptians and people around the world.

"Authorities should allow the Guardian’s Ruth Michaelson back into the country to continue her vital reporting,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator.

Though Egypt is known for clamping down on its local press, foreign journalists are no exception to the country's repressive press freedom record.

Egyptian authorities detained Walsh in September 2019, only releasing him after the New York Times alerted the embassy of his native country, Ireland. His employer said US President Donald Trump's administration knew of the incident as it happened, but "intended to sit on the information and let the arrest be carried out".

In February 2019, former NYT Cairo bureau chief David Kirkpatrick, was detained upon his arrival at Cairo airport, then put on a flight to London.

In 2018, Egyptian authorities expelled British journalist Bel Trew, then a correspondent for The Times, going as far as driving her to the airport and forcing her on an outbound flight.

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