In Egypt, one of the country’s most prominent rights defenders, Hossam Bahgat, was detained and is being interrogated on charges of publishing false news that could harm the nation.
Recently Bahgat, 36, has emerged as a standout investigative journalist in a country where much of the news media has been cowed into toeing the state line.
His detention spurred immediate condemnation from rights groups and journalists, who called it a new low in the clampdown on freedom of expression in Egypt. Amnesty International called for his immediate release.
Bahgat is currently an investigative journalist at the independent news site Mada Masr. After receiving an official summons at his home on Thursday, he reported to military intelligence this morning. He was interrogated for hours before being referred to the military prosecutor.
His lawyers say they expect a decision from the military prosecutor on whether he will be released or held and charged tomorrow.
Bahgat is being interrogated over an investigative piece he wrote a month ago about an attempted coup against Egypt’s president. His reporting is exhaustive and examines the little-known convictions of 26 army officers accused of attempting a military overthrow. It’s based on official documents and interviews with family members of the officers.
Bahgat is also known as Egypt’s most tireless human rights defender. He founded the preeminent human rights group the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights in 2002 and quickly became a voice for the downtrodden and the oppressed.
He left the organization in 2013 and began writing for Mada Masr the next year. He did groundbreaking work that dug into corruption, the flawed justice system and the military establishment.
In one piece, he picked apart claims that ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi released scores of Jihadis and Islamists from prison, endangering the country. In his story, he documented that it was the military that oversaw the majority of those releases following the 2011 uprising.
Bahgat is a unique voice in a country where rights groups say journalism is slowly being criminalized. Much of the local news media parrots the rhetoric of the military-backed government. Free speech is often silenced under a catch-all law of spreading false new. A more recent decree allows the state to levy heavy fines against journalists who publish information that conflict with official statements.
As soon as the news broke, social media erupted with condemnations of Bahgat’s detention and messages of solidarity.