Egyptian authorities try to silence exile journalist by arresting father
Update 21/09/2023: Egyptian authorities released the father of exiled journalist Ahmed Gamal Ziada on September 20, without specifying the reason for his release. He is, however, still the subject of legal proceedings. RSF calls on the authorities to stop pressuring the reporter and immediately dropping the absurd charges against his relative Gamal Ziada.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the release of the father of an Egyptian journalist who fled his country and edits a website from a base in Belgium. The father’s arrest on the outskirts of Cairo last week is designed to silence all Egyptian journalists who have fled abroad, RSF says.
Journalist Ahmed Gamal Ziada’s father, Gamal Ziada, is being held on charges of “spreading fake news,” “harmful use of social media” and “membership of a subversive organisation” – charges that are absurd for someone who is a tailor and has never been politically involved.
He was clearly arrested for the sole reason that his son edits Zawia Thalitha, an independent analytical and investigative website that he founded in Belgium, where he has worked as a journalist since 2019 after fleeing abroad because he was repeatedly threatened and arrested by the authorities in Egypt.
Arrested by plainclothesmen on 22 August outside his tailor’s workshop and clothes retail outlet in Nahia, a village on the western outskirts of Cairo, Gamal Ziada resurfaced 24 hours later when he was brought before the Cairo prosecutor-general’s office and was ordered detained for an initial (renewable) period of 15 days in 10th of Ramadan prison in the centre of Cairo.
“Everything that is happening is aimed directly at me,” his son, the journalist Ahmed Ziada, told RSF. “During one of his several interrogations, my father was questioned about my work and my life. The police told him – wrongly – that I worked with Al Jazeera. They also told him that I was a fugitive and a troublemaker for the state – accusations that he strongly disputed.”
“Not only is Gamal Ziada innocent, but his son, Ahmed Ziada – the real target of this intimidation attempt – is just as innocent. Arresting an exile journalist’s close relative in order to silence the journalist is an outrageous injustice designed to threaten all Egyptian journalists wherever they are in the world. This cannot go on. We call for the immediate release of the father of the founder of the independent investigative media Zawia Thalitha.”
Ahmed Ziada said his family has sent letters to the prosecutor-general and the president’s office insisting on his father’s innocence. The 59-year-old tailor has never belonged to any political or religious group or party and his social media presence is limited to a Facebook page promoting the clothes store he runs with his daughter.
Before fleeing to Belgium in 2019, Ziada was jailed twice. The first time was in 2013, when he was covering the protests at Cairo’s Al-Azhar mosque. After the police seized his camera and accused him of participating in the protests, he spent 18 months in pre-trial detention, until a court acquitted him. He was arrested again at Cairo international airport in January 2019 on his return from Tunisia, where he had worked as a reporter for the investigative news site Inkifada, and was held on a charge of spreading fake news for three months, until April 2019. He left Egypt a few months after his release.
Ziada, who has also worked for Mada Masr, founded Zawia Thalitha in Brussels earlier this year. In recent months, it has published critical reports about President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi – reports that would have been too dangerous to publish in Egypt. It also conducted an as-yet unpublished interview with would-be opposition candidate Ahmed al-Tantawi about his plans for the presidential elections in February 2024.
“I don’t know why they arrested my father but it may have been linked to that interview,” Ziada told RSF. One way or another, the authorities may have learned about the interview even though it has not yet been published.
Egypt has seen other acts of intimidation against Egyptian journalists in recent days. On 19 August, after the fact-checking website Matsadaash published information about Egyptian citizens arrested on landing in a private jet in Zambia, the authorities raided journalist Karim Assaad’s home and held him for 48 hours. In a statement on 20 August, Matsadaash reported that someone had hacked into its Facebook page and deleted two articles.