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Rights orgs demand release of dissident journalist Ismail Alexandrani

Thirteen Egyptian human rights organizations called for the release of journalist Ismail Alexandrani, who has been ordered detained for 15 days pending investigations into his alleged membership in a banned group.

Alexandrani, who specializes in Sinai-related issues, was interrogated for over eight hours Tuesday by Homeland Prosecution, according to a statement by the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR.)

“The signatories demand the release of Alexandrani and all prisoners of conscience, allowing freedoms, opening the political public space for freedom of expression, and ending the gag policy that will only lead us deeper and deeper into a dark tunnel with no end,” the organizations stated.

“This is a basic means to get out of our country’s crisis that has filled jails with dissidents or those who have an opinion different from the authorities,” the groups added.

The statement listed three charges that Alexandrani faces: belonging to a group that uses “terrorism” as one of its means to attack the state and the personal freedoms of citizens, promoting that group while knowing its targets, and disseminating false news that disrupt public peace.

The journalist, who has contributed research to several international universities and fellowships, denied the charges saying that his reports are of “news nature.” His laptop, cellphone and other belongings have been confiscated as part of the case against him.

Meanwhile, he remains in the cell of the Fifth Settlement police station in Cairo until investigations resume Thursday, according to his wife Khadeega Gaafar.

ECESR’s lawyers requested that Alexandrani be released for “the lack of grounds for remand.”

While AP reported that Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abou Zeid denied the involvement of the Egyptian embassy in Berlin in the case, Gaafar claims that the embassy had sent a memo to the Homeland Security on her husband’s delivery of lectures in Berlin on Egypt in October; hence his name on the wanted list at Egyptian airports.

The claims that the embassy had reported Alexandrani triggered accusations among activists that Egypt’s diplomatic missions “spy” on Egyptian expats.

However, Gaafar wrote on Twitter later on Wednesday that her husband’s investigation revealed he was arrested per a memo issued against him internally in May.

Both the Committee to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Watch released statements on the detention and called for his release.

Alexandrani’s articles, mostly published in non-Egyptian websites, such as Lebanese Al-Modon website, and public social media accounts are largely critical of the government. His Facebook account, however, was closed after he was taken into custody. The researcher has also been openly critical of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The hashtag #Free_Alexandrani has been tweeted more than 425 times since then.

He returned to Egypt for family reasons,  journalist Ahmed Sakr, a friend of Alexandrani’s,wrote on Facebook Monday. He avoided coming from Turkey, where had been for a few months, to Cairo Airport by flying from Berlin to Hurghada, a city on Egypt’s Red Sea.

Egypt requires permits before travelling to Turkey and generally has sore relations with Ankara because of its stance opposing the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. Any Egyptian who has been to Turkey without a prior permit may be interrogated.

Another journalist, Hossam Bahgat, was summoned Nov. 8 by the military prosecution and questioned over “publishing false information that harms national interest.” However, he was ordered detained for only four days; he was take into custody Nov. 8, released Nov. 10.

Following his release, Bahgat wrote Nov. 10 that the prosecution reiterated that he does not enjoy the legal protection of journalists because he is not a member of the Journalists Syndicate. He urged the syndicate to “secure syndicate protection to all those who practice journalism with no discrimination.”

This article was updated on Wednesday to note that Alexandrani was arrested per an internal memo issued last May

 

By Hanan Fayed

 

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