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Press briefing notes on Egypt

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Subject: Egypt
Date: 10 November 2015

We are deeply disturbed by Sunday’s arrest and extended detention of the prominent and highly respected Egyptian human rights defender and journalist, Hossam Bahgat.

Mr Bahgat, who founded a human rights NGO called the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) in 2002, has also become widely known for his courageous and incisive journalism.

According to his lawyers and colleagues, he was summoned to a military intelligence building in Cairo at 9h00 on Sunday morning, and then interrogated without legal counsel for more than eight hours, on the subject of his writing, and in particular about an investigative report he wrote for an independent on-line news site called Mada Masr back in October. His detention was extended to four days by the military prosecutor and will be reviewed on Wednesday.

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:

Firstly, it would appear that the charges against him are a violation of his right to freedom of expression. The charges against him reportedly fall under Article 102 bis and Article 188 of the Criminal Code, which provide sweeping restrictions on freedom of expression, including diffusing news or other information or data “if this is liable to disturb public security, spread fear among the people, or cause harm or damage to the public interest,” punishable by a jail sentence of up to one year and/or a fine of between, 5,000 and 20,000 Egyptian pounds.

The second major concern is that Mr Bahgat’s case is in the hands of the military prosecutor, when he is a civilian and his case should therefore be handled by the civilian justice system. Military courts in Egypt do not meet the requirements of independence since judges are subject to the orders of their superior military officers. The use of Egypt’s military courts to try civilians has expanded dramatically over the past year – with the number of such cases believed to be in the thousands.

Thirdly, due process was not followed on the first day, when Mr Bahgat was interrogated without a lawyer present. Lawyers did eventually get access to him late on Sunday afternoon, but his whereabouts have been unknown since then.

We urge the Egyptian authorities to release Mr Bahgat without delay; to take urgent steps to halt the legal harassment of journalists, both national and international, who are simply following their profession in accordance with their legal right to freedom of expression; and take equally urgent measures to halt the expanding use of the military justice system for cases involving civilians.

ENDS

For more information or media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org) or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 / cpouilly@ohchr.org)

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