Egyptian journalist to be detained 15 days after return from Germany


An Egyptian journalist and researcher on the turbulent Sinai Peninsula was ordered to remain in detention for 15 days by prosecutors on Tuesday, two days after he was arrested upon his return from Germany, rights groups said. Ismail Alexandrani was questioned on charges of belonging to a terrorist group, promoting its objectives, and publishing false news, a joint statement from 13 prominent Egyptian human rights organisations said.

Alexandrani has published several pieces for foreign news and research outlets criticising the Egyptian authorities' approach to an ongoing jihadist insurgency in Sinai. The rights groups said information provided to Alexandrani's lawyers, indicating that he was arrested because of a complaint from the Egyptian embassy in Berlin, "raises many questions about the role of the security (bureaus) in our embassies abroad." "Instead of protecting the rights of Egyptians abroad they spy on them, monitor their activities and write security reports about them, exposing them to security and judicial pursuit on their return to their homeland," they charged.

Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), both based in New York, also called for Alexandrani's release. "Ismail Alexandrani's arrest is the latest attempt by the Egyptian government to silence critical reporting through force and intimidation," CPJ's Middle East and North Africa research associate Jason Stern said.

According to a lawyer with one of the Egyptian rights groups that signed the joint statement, Eskandarani had left Egypt because of security fears related to being a journalist in Sinai in the first place, but had returned - despite warnings from friends - because a family member was seriously ill. Coverage of the Sinai Peninsula is a sensitive issue for Egyptian authorities, as militants affiliated with the Islamic State have carried out repeated deadly attacks on security forces there. Activists have in turn accused security forces of violating citizens' rights in their counter-insurgency efforts, which have included a military evacuation of a kilometre-wide strip along the Gaza border.

The North Sinai area, where the self-styled Sinai Province of Islamic State operates, is a closed military zone and reports from there are hard to verify. CPJ in June quoted a "veteran reporter" on Sinai as saying: "The only reporting we can do is to tell the army's story. Anything else is a prison wish." Egyptian authorities have cracked down on the media since President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi - then head of the armed forces - ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in 2013 amid mass protests against the Muslim Brotherhood leader's rule. According to CPJ, as of June, 18 journalists were imprisoned in Egypt because of their work, the highest number since the group began keeping records in 1990.    (dpa)

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