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Award-winning Egyptian reporter held on unknown charges

An award-winning Egyptian investigative journalist and sociopolitical researcher has been arrested after being questioned at Hurghada International Airport, his wife said, adding that the accusations or charges against him have still not been revealed.

Ismail Alexandrani, 32, was taken for questioning at 1pm on Sunday as he flew into Hurghada from Berlin, said Khadeega Gafar, speaking to Al Jazeera by phone from Cairo.

She said she gained information about her husband’s case by speaking to an “anonymous security source”. Local media also reported that Alexandrani was detained at the airport.

“I’m not in contact with Ismail,” she said, adding that his passport had been confiscated. “I’m still not sure where he is. I have been told he might be in Cairo. He could be in Hurghada.

“He was returning to Egypt after some time away to see his family. It was his plan to fly via Hurghada, not Cairo, to avoid interrogation,” she added.

Alexandrani had participated in a conference on counterterrorism in Berlin recently, said Gafar.

Since 2013, Egyptian authorities have cracked down on freedom of expression after the ouster of democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Angelita Baeyens, programmes director at the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights organisation in Washington DC, told Al Jazeera that Egypt’s crackdown on free speech is of “deep concern”.
“Although the charges against Alexandrani, if any, and the particular circumstances of his detention have not yet been made clear,” she said, “the ongoing harassment of activists, independent journalists, and human rights defenders in Egypt remains a deep concern and raises serious questions about the country’s commitment to respecting the rights of its citizens to freedom of expression and association.”

It was possible, Gafar alleged, that the Egyptian embassy in the German capital may have tipped off authorities in Egypt.

“Some members of the Muslim Brotherhood attended [the Berlin conference], but Ismail is critical of the Muslim Brotherhood,” she said.

“The security services know this. He’s criticised them [the Muslim Brotherhood] on social media. He is anti-Muslim Brotherhood,” she added. “They [Egyptian authorities] are just very sensitive … if you are in the same place as people from the Muslim Brotherhood, then this is a problem for them.”

According to Human Rights Watch, more than 3,700 civilians have been charged in military courts since October 2014, when President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi expanded the jurisdiction of military courts for a two-year period.

Many of those civilians were charged in the military courts “for acts related to protesting and [alleged affiliation with] the Muslim Brotherhood”.

According to his Twitter profile, Alexandrani is also an “expert in Sinai and Egypt’s extremities, Islamism and post-Islamism, and a human rights activist”. He was also a visiting fellow at the Washington DC-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

In 2014, he won the Open Eye-Hany Darweesh Award for an exceptional essay, and a prize from the World Youth Movement for Democracy in 2009.

The detention is part of a wider “paranoia about nationalism,” said Gafar. “[Authorities worry] that maybe you are saying something not in favour of the regime. They make Egypt and the regime the same, and accuse that you are not patriotic enough.”

A state security prosecution hearing is expected in New Cairo on Tuesday morning, added Gafar, who is in touch with human rights organisations and lawyers.

“How can I express how I am feeling? I am not in a good state,” she said. “I am not in communication with him, so every piece of information comes to me with a contradiction. I have no life for now. It’s just about finding out where he is, whether he is OK, and what he is accused of.”


By Anealla Safdar


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