Update: Hossam Bahgat has been released, unclear if charges still pending
Courtesy: Human Rights Watch

Hossam Bahgat was released from military intelligence at midday on Tuesday after he signed a document stating, “I, Hossam Bahgat, journalist at Mada Masr, declare that I will abide by legal and security procedures when publishing material pertaining to the Armed Forces.”

“I was also not subjected to any moral or physical harm,” the document stated. 

It remains unclear whether the charges leveled against him have been dropped. 

The military prosecution ordered the detention of Bahgat for four days on Monday, pending investigation into charges of publishing false news that harms national interests and disseminating information that disturbs the public peace.

Mada Masr contributor Bahgat has been charged with violating Articles 102 and 188 of the Penal Code. Article 102 stipulates an unspecified prison sentence and a fine of LE50–200 for deliberately broadcasting false information that disturbs public security, incites public panic and harms the public interest.

Article 188 stipulates a maximum one-year sentence and/or an LE5,000–20,000 fine for falsely attributing sources or involuntarily disseminating false information or forged documents that disturb public order, incite public panic and harm the public interest.

Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) Director Gasser Abdel Razek told Mada Masr that military interrogators finished questioning Bahgat late Sunday, and lawyers expected military prosecutors to issue a final decision by Monday morning. 

Several lawyers attended Bahgat’s interrogation, including Negad al-Boraie, Hassan al-Azhari, Khaled Ali, Adel Ramadan and Hoda Nasrallah. A source at the Journalists Syndicate told Mada Masr that their lawyer was also sent to attend.

Bahgat received a summons from Military Intelligence at his home in Alexandria on Thursday. He arrived at Military Intelligence headquarters in Nasr City at 9 am on Sunday. In accordance with standard procedures, he was not allowed to enter with his phone, or be accompanied by a lawyer.

After several hours with military intelligence, Bahgat was transferred to military prosecution, where several lawyers headed when news of his interrogation was communicated.

According to lawyers, military prosecutors refused to disclose Bahgat’s current whereabouts. 

In a statement, Amnesty International said Bahgat’s interrogation “is a clear signal of the Egyptian authorities’ resolve to continue with their ferocious onslaught against independent journalism and civil society.”

“The arrest of Hossam Bahgat today is yet another nail in the coffin for freedom of expression in Egypt. He is being detained and questioned by the military prosecutor for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and must be immediately and unconditionally released. Any charges brought against him must be dropped,” said Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International.

“The Egyptian military cannot continue to consider itself above the law and immune from criticism,” he added.

In a statement late Sunday, the Community to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on Egyptian authorities to immediately release Bahgat.

“The Egyptian military has already indicated its contempt for the role of an independent media with a series of arrests of journalists. This latest detention is a clear attempt to stifle reporting,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said. “The Egyptian authorities should release Hossam Bahgat immediately. The fact that he was questioned for so long without his lawyers present only heightens the outrage.”

Bahgat founded EIPR, Egypt’s flagship human rights organization, before embarking on a career in journalism. He received Human Rights Watch’s Alison Des Forges Award in 2011.

Bahgat has written for Mada Masr since 2014. His latest article, “A coup busted,” is an investigation into the secret military trial of 26 officers for plotting “regime change” in coordination with the Brotherhood.

He also wrote a report on the “Arab Sharkas cell: The quasi-covert trial of Ansar Beit al-Maqdes,” as well as “The Mubarak mansions,” which revealed how Egyptians unknowingly paid for the ruling family’s lavish lifestyle. His piece “Who let the jihadis out?” explored who was responsible for the pardon of Islamists post-2011.