Reporters Without Borders calls for the immediate release of Alexandria-based journalist and human rights activist Youssef Shaaban, who is being held on a trumped-up drug charge. A reporter for the independent online newspaper Al-Badil, he was arrested during a demonstration on 20 November by residents in the Alexandria neighbourhood of Abu Suleiman, who were protesting against their eviction.
The press freedom organization has learned that Shaaban was arrested while photographing a policeman beating participants in the protest, which took place as local development minister Abdel Salam Al-Mahjoub, a candidate for the Raml area of Alexandria in next Sunday’s parliamentary elections, was giving a campaign conference.
Police took Shaaban and several demonstrators to a Raml district police station. There, intelligence offers charged him with drug trafficking and immediately sent the case to the prosecutor’s office, which had him detained for an additional four days, supposedly for the purposes of further investigation.
The charges were clearly fabricated in order to silence an outspoken journalist a week ahead of the parliamentary elections. Reporters Without Borders condemns Shaaban’s arrest and voices its concern at the blatant use of the judicial apparatus to satisfy the government’s political interests.
Such behaviour resembles the methods used by the Tunisian authorities against journalists critical of the government (http://en.rsf.org/tunisia-journalist-in-desert-prison-could-28-07-2010,38042.html). Arbitrary arrests followed by fabricated charges violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Egypt ratified on 14 January 1982 and took effect on 14 April 1982.
Known for his commitment to human rights and for writing articles critical of the authorities, Shaaban has been arrested and roughed up the Alexandria police on several occasions in the past. He was last arrested in May while taking part in a protest against the repeated prolongation of the state of emergency that was declared after President Anwar Al-Sadat’s assassination in October 1981.
Shaaban wrote several articles recently about Ahmed Shaaban, a young man who was beaten to death by police in Alexandria’s Sedi Gaber police station. He also covered human rights activist Khaled Mohammed Said’s murder by Alexandria police officers on 6 June. He has often been threatened by the police because of his coverage of protests against police brutality torture and the impunity the police enjoy.
Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders is still without news of Ahmed Hassan Basiouny, a young blogger who is also the victim of illegal proceedings that violate the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
He was due to have appeared before a military court on 20 November on charges of disseminating defence secrets and “disclosing information about the Egyptian armed forces” for posting advice and information online for young people thinking of enlisting in the Egyptian army.
Reporters Without Borders is concerned about the way the authorities have been tightening their grip on news and information during the campaign for next Sunday’s parliamentary elections. There have been several cases of media censorship and harassment in recent weeks (more information: http://en.rsf.org/egypt-authorities-tighten-control-over-21-10-2010,38638.html).