Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the warped methods used to prolong the pre-trial detention of journalists beyond the legal limit in Egypt, where Badr Mohamed Badr, an Al Jazeera journalist held since March 2017, resurfaced in court yesterday after being missing within the prison system for the past three months.
Held preventively since March 2017 on charges of "membership of a terrorist group" and "spreading false news," Badr should have been freed in March 2019 because, in theory at least, Egyptian law limits preventive detention to a maximum of two years.
A court approved his release in late November 2019 but it was not carried out. Instead he went missing on 3 December, the date when the prison administration stopped providing any information about his case, leaving his family without any news of him for nearly three months.
He finally resurfaced yesterday when he was brought before a Cairo security court on the grounds that he is to be the subject of a new investigation on suspicion of crimes that were not, however, specified.
"As if nothing untoward had ever happened, the Egyptian justice system has reversed its decision to free Badr Mohamed Badr and has brought him back to light after a disappearance of several months," said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF's Middle East desk. "To keep journalists in prison and circumvent the two-year limit on preventive detention, they reset the counter to zero by opening a new investigation."
The same procedure was used with another Al Jazeera journalist, Mahmoud Hussein, who
has been held since December 2016. The authorities said they were going free him in May 2019 but his release did not take place and they finally said it had been cancelled on the
grounds that a new investigation had been ordered.
Other journalists, including Moataz Wednan, Hassan Al-Banna Mubarak and Mostafa Al-Aasar, have also been held for more than two years in violation of the two-year limit on detention without trial.
Egypt is ranked 163rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index.