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Egypt military frees prominent activist reporter Bahgat: NGO

November 10, 2015

Egypt’s military on Tuesday freed prominent rights defender and reporter Hossam Bahgat, a day after his detention sparked calls for his release from the United Nations, a rights activist told AFP.

“He called me and said he’s been released from the military intelligence building,” said Gasser Abdel-Razek, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative For Personal Rights group that Bahgat founded.

The rights group later posted a picture on Twitter of Bahgat in its office after his release.

Bahgat, 36, had been summoned by the military on Sunday for questioning over an investigative report on a military trial.

He was held overnight and then military prosecutors remanded him in custody for four days.

Thousands of activists, mostly Islamists but also leftists, as well as several journalists, have been detained since former army chief and now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi overthrew his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

But Bahgat’s detention drew swift attention owing to his longstanding work as one of the country’s top human rights defenders, as well as his more recent investigative pieces for independent news site Mada Masr.

The spokesman for the UN High Commissioner For Human Rights had earlier urged Egyptian authorities “to release Mr Bahgat without delay”.

“The case of Hossam Bahgat, the latest in a long line of arrests and imprisonment of independent journalists in Egypt, is disturbing on a number of fronts,” spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was “concerned” about Bahgat’s detention, his spokesman wrote on his Twitter account, drawing an angry rebuke from Egypt’s foreign ministry.

Egypt “denounces” the comment, the foreign ministry said in a statement, saying it dealt with a “specific case” and was “jumping to conclusions”.

“It would have been more in accordance with the professional responsibility of the secretary general to exercise accuracy and concern for general cases relating to collective violations against people denied basic rights,” the statement said.

Bahgat had been detained on suspicion of violating a law that bans spreading “false” news that damages the country’s interests.

Under Egypt’s constitution, the military may prosecute and try civilians if the violation is against broadly defined military interests.

In 2013, three reporters with Al-Jazeera were detained and later tried and convicted on similar charges, and for alleged ties with Morsi’s blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Their trial sparked international criticism led by the White House and the United Nations.

One of them, Australian Peter Greste, was deported early this year and the remaining two, Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, were pardoned by Sisi.

Bahgat’s detention may have come as an embarrassment to the president, who had said he wished the Jazeera reporters had never been put on trial in the first place.

Sisi has said that the country now enjoys “unprecedented” freedom of expression, and his government has said it does not jail journalists.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.