[JURIST] Egyptian officials on Sunday arrested prominent human rights activist and journalist Hossam Bahgat after military officials questioned him concerning a report he wrote on the secret trial of former military officers [Mada Masr report]. Bahgat, who writes for Mada Masr [media website], was charged [Mada Masr report] with “publishing false news that harms national interests and disseminating information that disturbs public peace.” Rights groups, such as Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] have called the arrest a “blow for freedom of expression” [AI report].
The prosecution and imprisonment of journalists by the Egyptian government has garnered widespread criticism from governments and rights groups worldwide. In August Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi approved [JURIST report] a 54-article counterterrorism law that has been met with significant controversy, as many believe it infringes on the freedom of the press. Many have said that the law defines terrorism too broadly and imposes harsh sentences and fines on violators. Al Jazeera reported that some of the fines exceed USD $25,000 and will be levied against journalists who broadcast reports that contradict the government. Al Jazeera argues this crackdown on freedom of the press could effectively dissolve small news agencies in Egypt and deter them from reporting important events for fear of governmental retaliation. Human Rights Watch criticized [JURIST report] Egypt’s new counterterrorism law saying it infringes on freedom of the press. HRW opposes the fact that the new law gives prosecutors the power to detain suspects without a court order. Also in August Egyptian police arrested [JURIST report] three people under the law for their role in spreading propaganda related to the Islamic State on Facebook.