Egypt: Sinai specialist Ismail Alexandrani completes second year in pre-trial detention
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its call for the immediate and unconditional release of Ismail Al Sayed Mohamed Omar Toufic, a respected Egyptian journalist and researcher who was arrested by the Egyptian authorities exactly two years ago today.
Better known as Ismail Alexandrani, a pen-name he chose in honour of his home town, the northern city of Alexandria, he is a respected freelance investigative reporter, political scientist and sociologist specializing in the Sinai Peninsula’s Jihadi movements.
Arrested at Hurghada airport, in the Red Sea Governorate, on his return from Berlin on 29 November 2015, Alexandrani has been held provisionally ever since. RSF urges the authorities to free him and drop all charges against him. RSF also calls for the release of all journalists who are unjustly detained in Egypt.
“The Egyptian authorities must allow local journalists to investigate subjects of public interest even when the authorities regard these subjects as sensitive,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk.
“Detaining a journalist provisionally for two years can only be regarded as an excessive punishment. We call on the authorities to explain the grounds that supposedly justify repeatedly prolonging his pre-trial detention.”
Alain Gresh, a French journalist who has met Alexandrani several times and as the editor of the online newspaper Orient XXI and as a journalist at the monthly Le Monde Diplomatique, for which Alexandrani wrote, said: “It was undoubtedly his articles about the Sinai for the international media that prompted his arrest.”
The editor of Orient XXI said: “He was a rigorous reporter and extremely well informed, especially about the Sinai where he had many contacts, while the Egyptian authorities tried and still try to prevent any serious reporting emerging from the region.”
Alexandrani’s detention has been systematically renewed every 45 days for the past two years, reaching the legal limit for provisional detention in Egypt. He is held on suspicion of publishing false information and belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood but the charges are not definitive because judicial proceedings have not yet been formally initiated against him.
“Everyone who knows him has been struck by the inanity of these accusations,” said Youssef el Chazli, a political scientist and PhD student, who points out that Alexandrani’s tens of thousands of Facebook follows are fully aware of “his intellectual and political aversion to Islamist movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Nominated for the RSF Press Freedom Prize in 2016, Alexandrani was an associate researcher at the Arab Reform Initiative in Paris and a guest lecturer at the Wilson Centre in Washington. He also wrote for MadaMasr, Safir Arabi, Al Jazeera English and the Forum for Arab and International Relations.
At least 16 journalists are currently detained in connection with their work in Egypt, which is ranked 161st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.