Egypt journalist Haitham Mahgoub detained for reporting on COVID-19 crisis

The Egyptian Supreme State Security Prosecution decided, on Wednesday, to detain a journalist working for Al-Masry Al-Youm, Haitham Hassan Mahgoub, for a period of 15 days, accusing him of “joining a terrorist group.” Haitham’s arrest came days after he published an article relating to the Egyptian authorities’ handling of the corona crisis, according to Haitham’s friends. Haitham has been accused of other charges, including “broadcasting false news and statements” and “committing a terrorist financing crime”.

Egyptian human rights lawyer Ahmed Abdel Latif said that Haitham appeared in the Supreme State Security Prosecution, and was investigated and included in Case No. 586 of 2020 (State Security Survey). Jurists say that the case in which Haitham was included includes a number of journalists and human rights activists, describing it as a new “fabricated” case from the Egyptian security and prosecution services. Haitham’s family said that he was arrested by the security authorities from their home, and they were told that he was wanted on charges of “breaking the curfew.” 

An Egyptian journalist and friend of Haitham said that the real reasons for his arrest were due to his preparation of reports on COVID-19 and the way the Egyptian regime dealt with this crisis, and he received threats before being arrested. He explained that a number of journalists have received threats from Egyptian authorities about their work on this issue, which the regime is dealing with as a “national security issue”.

Magda Mubarak, Haitham’s mother, said that he was arrested in the early hours of Tuesday, from his house in Cairo: “Security forces came to the family’s home in the Dar al-Salaam neighborhood [south Cairo], and asked his brother about him, who [happened to be at the] gate of the house.” They asked his brother to call him, and they told him that he was being arrested for breaking the curfew, and they said they would take him to the Dar al-Salaam Police Station. When his family asked about him there, they were told he was not at the police station. Magda added that Haitham’s colleagues contacted members of the Press Syndicate Council, who confirmed that he had been take to the State Security Prosecution in the 5th Settlement, and the prosecution prevented lawyers from attending the investigation, violating the law.

Another of Haitham’s friends, also a journalist who asked not to be named, considered the accusation that he was a member of the terrorist group to be irrational, especially since he is from a well-known left-wing family, and his grandfather was the late Mubarak Abdo Fadl, whose ancestry dates back to the Nuba region of the Aswan Governorate.

Mubarak Abdo Fadl’s name is associated with the leftist movement, accompanied by Nubian activists Muhammad Khalil Qasim and Zaki Murad, as all three played an influential role in communicating with the Sudanese Communist Party, pushing slogans such as “democracy for the people” and “bread for the poor.”Haitham has not had any terrorist inclinations, and he has never advocated violence, according to his friends.

The State Security Prosecution decided to imprison political activist Ahmed Maher, known as Rigo, in the same case, who was arrested from his home on May 4, and who has been forcibly disappeared by the security services for more than a week. Maher was working as an official in the campaign for former army chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Sami Annan, for the position of president of the republic. On Tuesday, the State Security Prosecution decided to detain the film producer Moataz Abdel Wahab for 15 days pending investigation, on the same case and the same charges.

Haitham is the latest journalist to join the list of detained journalists in Egypt, who number more than 70 journalists, according to the estimates of the Arab Observatory for Media Freedom.

Over the past few years, the Egyptian authorities have blocked more than 500 websites in Egypt, according to the latest statistics published by Reporters without Borders. According to the International Press Freedom Rankings for 2020, Egypt ranks 166 in a list of 180 countries, down three places compared to last year.