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Times, SIS dispute events surrounding journalist’s expulsion from Egypt

The State Information Service (SIS) defended the authorities’ decision to forcibly expel The Times’s correspondent Bel Trew, who was made to leave Egypt over a month ago, in a statement on Sunday, saying that she violated “Egyptian law and regulations governing the work of foreign correspondents in Egypt” by practicing journalism without valid press accreditation.

A spokesperson for the British newspaper responded to SIS accusations in a statement emailed to Mada Masr on Monday morning, asserting that the correspondent was told the day before she was made to leave that her request for a 2018 press permit was accepted, but that the press cards had not been printed yet. She was reassured that “all was well” and that her accreditation was still valid.

The Times published an article on Saturday revealing that Trew had been forcibly expelled on February 21. In an emailed statement issued by a spokesperson for The Times on Friday night, the newspaper said that authorities took Trew to a police station on February 20 after she conducted an interview with the relative of a man who died on board a migrant boat crossing to Europe. She was interrogated in detention and then taken to the airport and flown to London the following day. The Times initially refrained from commenting on the situation in hopes that it was a mistake that could be reversed, but the newspaper decided to go public after being informed by diplomats that Trew would not be allowed to return.

The British Embassy in Cairo spokesperson told Mada Masr that UK authorities had taken diplomatic measures and offered support to address the situation.

“We have provided support and raised our concerns at the highest levels. The foreign secretary has raised it directly with the Egyptian Foreign Minister,” the spokesperson said. “We have not seen any evidence of wrongdoing and will continue to press the Egyptian authorities on this case.”

In its statement, the SIS accused the correspondent of not acquiring the temporary permits that the authority issues foreign correspondents on a monthly basis, pending the issuance of the 2018 permanent press permits. The SIS also accused Trew of producing reports on Egypt that are “fraught with criticism, professional errors and erroneous information.” At the time of her February arrest, Trew was conducting and filming interviews using photo and video equipment in the street without the necessary permits, according to SIS’ Sunday statement. “This is simply wrong,” The Times stated in its comments to Mada Masr on Monday. “Trew had no such equipment with her, as the police who arrested her could attest,” affirmed the British publication’s spokesperson.

A foreign correspondent in Cairo who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity said that, in recent years, SIS has been delaying the issuance of its yearly permits to foreign reporters to the month of April, rather than earlier in the year. The correspondent added that he was reassured by SIS officials on two separate occasions that he is allowed to operate using his 2017 permit in the meantime, until the authority issued the renewed 2018 permits.

The Times asserted in its Sunday statement that it contacted Egypt’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, SIS’ Press Centre for Foreign Correspondents and the Egyptian Embassy in London seeking a comment on Trew’s deportation, but received no response.

In an article published in The Times on Saturday, Trew recounts her ordeal and asserts that she is an accredited journalist with a valid work visa.

SIS’ statement on the issue affirmed “the keenness of Egyptian authorities… on the freedom of the press and expression in Egypt,” noting the fact that 1,200 foreign journalists are allowed to operate legally in Egypt, only one of whom has been deported since the 2011 revolution.

However, Trew is not the first accredited foreign journalist to be forcibly removed from Egypt. In 2016, Rémy Pigaglio, an accredited reporter for the France-based La Croix publication who had been working in Egypt for two years, was denied reentry to the country upon his arrival at Cairo Airport and provided no further explanation regarding the reasons behind the decision.  

There have been a number of local journalists arrested or forcibly disappeared in recent months.

Journalist Moataz Wadnan, who conducted an interview with former head of the Central Auditing Authority Hesham Geneina, in which the latter discussed documents regarding post-2011 violence, was arrested on February 16.

Journalist Mostafa al-Asar, who works for the Ultra Sawt news website, was forcibly disappeared on February 4 alongside journalist Hassan al-Banna as they made their way to work in the Giza neighborhood of Dokki. Asar and Banna were brought before the State Security Prosecution on February 15.

Mahmoud Kamel, who sits on the board of the Journalists Syndicate, previously told Mada Masr that 31 journalists are currently imprisoned, some of whom have been officially sentenced, while others remain in pretrial detention and are yet to go to trial.

The family of journalist Hossam al-Wakil have also been unable to ascertain his whereabouts since his December 30 arrest. The Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms published a statement on February 7 on behalf of the family, demanding that authorities reveal Wakil’s whereabouts.

Omar al-Sayyed, a journalist at the Middle East News Agency, has also been missing since police arrested him from his home in Helwan in November.

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