This important finding by the Working Group, which has just been made public, was reached during its 90th session, held from 3 to 12 May. It was issued in response to the letter that RSF sent on 30 April 2020 denouncing the Egyptian government’s systematic use of arbitrary detention against critical journalists, and citing ten cases.
Only three of the ten journalists whose cases were documented in the letter have since been released. They are freelancer Solafa Magdy, who was released on 13 April 2021, Masr Al-Arabiya editor Adel Sabry, released on 27 July 2020, and Al Jazeera producer Mahmoud Hussein, released on 6 February 2021.
The other seven – blogger Esraa Abdel Fattah, freelance journalists Hossam Moanis, Hisham Fouad, Badr Mohamed Badr, Ismail Alexandrani and Moataz Wednan and video reporter Mohamed Oxygen – are all still being held.
“The United Nations has issued a harsh rebuke to Field Marshal el-Sisi, a stinging reminder that no, journalism is not a crime,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “The policy of detaining journalists arbitrarily must stop in Egypt. We call on the Egyptian authorities to free the detained journalists immediately and unconditionally and to respect international standards.”
The ten journalists are or were clearly detained in connection with their journalistic activities. The Working Group said the government “failed to explain the threat posed by the journalistic work of any of the 10 individuals” or how their detention “was a necessary and proportionate response to protect” its legitimate interests.
Although almost all of them were charged with membership of terrorist group and spreading false news, the Working Group concluded that “there is no information to suggest that the activities of any of the 10 journalists advocated violence or war, or incited discrimination or hostility.”
Referring to the fact that only one of the ten, Ismail Alexandrani, had been tried and convicted, the Working Group stressed that “pretrial detention should be the exception and not the rule” and should be “for as short a time as possible.” Egyptian law limits pre-trial detention to two years but some of these journalists have been held without trial for longer than the legal limit. They include Moataz Wednan, who has been held without trial since February 2018.
Detention is regarded as arbitrary if the reason violates international law. This includes detaining a person for the sole reason that they were legitimately exercising a freedom.
Egypt is ranked 166th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.