Washington, D.c. — The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Egyptian authorities to release reporter Mai El-Sabagh and cameraman Ahmad Mustafa, of the local news website Raseef22, who were arrested in Alexandria on February 28.
Police in the city's al-Attarin neighborhood arrested the journalists for allegedly filming without a license, according to statements and social media updates from the journalists' family members and lawyers. At the time of their arrest, the journalists were reporting a story about a tram.
Mohamed Abdelaziz, the executive manager of the local human rights group Al-Haqanya, wrote on his personal Facebook page today that the journalists are also under investigation for possessing "photographic tools" that would spread false news, and other national security charges including being members of the banned April 6 youth organization.
Journalists working in Egypt do not require a license to report or film, according to CPJ research.
"Egyptian authorities must end their witch-hunt against the press and immediately release Mai El-Sabagh and Ahmad Mustafa," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. "Reporting any story of public interest requires no security approval and certainly does not justify detention."
The independent news website Mada Masr cited a lawyer for the journalists as saying that prosecutors today reviewed the journalists' footage and questioned them about their reporting and for whom they work.
Abdelaziz said on Facebook that he and several lawyers are working to secure the journalists' release and that the decision is in the hands of the al-Attarin area prosecutor.
Egypt's prosecutor general's office did not immediately respond to CPJ's request for comment.
Family members, colleagues, and press freedom advocates decried the arrest on social media. El-Sabbagh's work on Raseef22 featured reports on women's rights. The website also covers local and social issues.
Raseef22 did not immediately respond to CPJ's request for comment sent via Facebook messenger.
Egyptian authorities have been ratcheting up their rhetoric against media outlets. Yesterday, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said that media defaming the military or police are committing treason, Reuters reported. On February 28, the prosecutor general, Nabil Sadiq, ordered state prosecutors to monitor media reports and take action against any outlets publishing "false news, [false] statements, and rumors," The Associated Press and Reuters reported. Sadiq urged Egyptian media regulatory bodies to report alleged irregularities in news reports to prosecutors, the news agencies said.
At least 20 journalists were behind bars in Egypt as of December 1, 2017, according to CPJ's prison census, with at least seven facing charges of spreading "false news."