Freelance photographer Hamdy Al-Zaeem was the first Egyptian journalist to be subjected to an enforced disappearance in 2021. After being arrested at his home on 4 January, he disappeared for 12 days, until he was brought before a state security court in Cairo and was formally detained on charges of “spreading fake news” and “membership of a terrorist group.”
According to the Arab Network for Human Rights and Information, he is currently being held in isolation in Abassya Hospital for Chest Diseases because he has Covid-19 symptoms although no test has been carried out to confirm that he has the virus. Although diabetic, he has reportedly not received the treatment he needs and his condition is said to have worsened to the point that his life is now in danger.
Zaeem was previously jailed in 2016 on charges of “spreading fake news,” “membership of a terrorist group,” “threat to state security” and “calls for unauthorized demonstrations.” When released conditionally in June 2018, he was placed under judicial surveillance, which in theory is limited to two years. A Cairo court nonetheless issued an illegal order extending it until further notice.
The other journalist, Ahmed Khalifa, disappeared on 6 January. According to Masr360, the news website for which he covers labour issues, he disappeared after responding to orders to report to the domestic security office in Faiyum governorate, where he lives, which is located immediately to the southwest of Cairo.
He did not reappear until 19 January, when he was brought before the same state security court in Cairo as Zaeem and was detained on the same charges. The police deny having arrested him, according to a Facebook post by the lawyer Yasmine Hossam. Khalifa recently covered the many protests about delays in the payment of wages by certain companies.
“These two enforced disappearances in the space of a few days show the degree to which the treatment of journalists violates international law,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “In addition to detaining journalists, the authorities no longer even trouble to inform their families or tell them why they have been detained.”
Freelance photographer Mohamed El-Raai is another recent victim. He disappeared on 27 November after receiving several summonses to report to the security office in Shubra El-Kheima, a city in Qalyubiya governorate that is immediately to the north of Cairo. RSF has learned that his family spent several days without knowing what had happened to him. He was finally released without charge on 1 December.
Egypt is ranked 166th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.