Egypt detains then deports French journalist on arrival at Cairo airport

Cairo International Airport authorities detained French journalist Rémy Pigaglio on Monday for 30 hours on his arrival in Egypt from France before they deported him.

Pigaglio is a correspondent for the French newspaper La Croix and was previously authorized by the Egyptian State Information Services, which handles permits for foreign journalists in Egypt.

Upon his arrival in Paris, Pigaglio spoke to Mada Masr, recounting his ordeal at Cairo airport. Airport police took his passport and mobile phone on arrival, he said, preventing him from contacting the French Embassy. Hours later he was taken to an airline desk and told he was banned from entering and would have to return to France. 

Pigaglio was then taken to a detention area in the airport, when he managed to make contact with the embassy. He was told the ban was issued by Egypt’s General Intelligence Services.

“I wasn’t mistreated. No one interrogated me and I didn’t know and still don’t know why the entry ban decision was taken against me,” Pigaglio told his newspaper shortly before taking a flight back to Paris. 

La Croix editor Agnes Rotivel told Mada Masr on Wednesday, “We received no reason for his deportation. He has been our correspondent in Egypt for the last two years. He had all his papers in order.” 

“I was doing my job as a foreign correspondent in Egypt. I was telling stories that would probably not be liked by Egyptian authorities just like other foreign correspondents. We work on the same issues,” Pigaglio told Mada Masr. 

In one of his latest stories, Pigaglio reported on Egyptian journalists mobilizing at the syndicate earlier in May, shortly after police raided the syndicate’s headquarters and arrested two journalists.

Asked whether he would be interested in coming back to Egypt if the decision is reversed, Pigaglio said, “Egypt was like home. It’s where I lived and worked.”

Despite his deportation, Pigaglio’s case was raised with senior Egyptian officials, including President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who was informed of the case by a delegation of French parliamentarians.

A statement by the French Foreign Ministry on Wednesday denounced the French journalist’s deportation: “France regrets this decision by the Egyptian authorities. Everywhere in the world, it defends freedom of expression and media. The president of the republic raised this during his visit to Egypt on April 17 and 18.”

French President Francois Hollande’s visit resulted in the signing of weapons and finance deals worth 2 billion euros. 

French journalists in Egypt released a statement Wednesday saying, “Despite the French Embassy’s intervention, our colleague was not able to enter Egypt and had no other choice but to leave the territory, without being given any explanation by the authorities.”

“All French correspondents in Egypt find the growing repression (surveillance, intimidation, deportation and detention), exerted by the authorities on Egyptian and foreign media alike, to be unacceptable,” the statement read.

“We extend our deepest solidarity to our colleague Rémy Pigaglio, who has been unjustly forbidden from doing his job. We demand that the Egyptian authorities provide an explanation as to why this decision was taken.”

A number of writers, researchers and human rights workers have also been refused entry at Cairo airport in recent months, including Egyptian-German researcher Atef Botros — who was banned from entering Egypt on January 30, and Tunisian writer and academic Amel Grami — who was also detained and deported from Cairo airport in January this year. 

The independent information platform Daftar Ahwal reported 554 cases of politically motivated banned entry and travel bans imposed by Egyptian authorities in airports between February 2011 and March 2016. 

In February 2016, Egypt’s Journalists Syndicate documented the cases of at least 32 journalists currently detained or serving prison sentences, with the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) listing Egypt as the second worst jailer of journalists worldwide, trailing shortly behind China.

The number of jailed journalists in Egypt rose dramatically in 2015, CPJ said, nearly doubling in number after Sisi’s administration assumed power.

Sisi told representatives from the Arab Journalists Union in 2014 that foreign journalists in the controversial Al Jazeera trial should have been deported at the time and not imprisoned. 

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