Egypt: Release journalist who has spent two years behind bars without charge or trial
Ismail al-Iskandarani has been detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression and should never have been arrested in the first place.
The Egyptian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release a journalist and prisoner of conscience who, as of today, has spent two full years in pre-trial detention for his reporting, said Amnesty International.
Ismail al-Iskandrani is one of the few Egyptian journalists who continued to report critically on military operations in North Sinai despite authorities attempting to impose a blackout in the region. Under Egyptian law, two years is the maximum anyone can be held in pre-trial detention, which in itself raises serious human rights concerns.
“Ismail al-Iskandarani has been detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression and should never have been arrested in the first place. The judges reviewing his pre-trial detention would be flouting Egyptian and international law if they extend his unjust detention any further,” said Najia Bounaim, North Africa Campaigns Director at Amnesty International.
“The detention of Ismail al-Iskandrani is an illustration of the repressive media blackout imposed in North Sinai, where journalists and researchers face threats and intimidation for daring to uncover the reality of what is happening on the ground. Egyptian authorities have done their utmost to conceal violations by security forces from scrutiny by the press and rights groups.”
On 29 November 2015, the National Security Agency of the Ministry of Interior arrested Ismail al-Iskandrani at Hurghada airport upon his return from Berlin. Police officers interrogated him about his trips to different countries and searched his laptop.
The Supreme State Security Prosecution interrogated him on 1 December 2015 about his views on the political situation in Egypt, particularly developments in North Sinai, and searched his social media accounts, emails and laptop. Prosecutors ordered his detention on charges of “belonging to a banned group”, the Muslim Brotherhood, and “publishing false information and news”.
Lawyer Mohamed Eissa from the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, who attended all interrogation sessions with al-Iskandrani, told Amnesty International that prosecutors have failed to present any evidence that could justify his detention, other than his political views and journalistic work.
Attack on independent journalism
Al-Iskandrani’s investigative journalism - for online newspapers such as Mada Masr and Assafir Al Arabi - frequently focused on the ongoing armed confrontations between security forces and armed groups in North Sinai, and the impact of political violence on residents and members of security forces.
Amnesty International believes his journalistic work covering developments in Sinai is the only reason for his detention.
The military has tightly controlled all reporting on its operations against the insurgency in North Sinai by denying access to independent journalists.
At least 25 journalists are currently imprisoned in Egypt for doing their legitimate work. Between January and May 2017, courts sentenced at least 16 journalists to between three months and five years in prison on charges related solely to their writing, including defamation or publication of “false information”.
Egypt’s Code of Criminal Procedure states that no one, under any circumstances, should remain in pre-trial detention without conviction beyond two years. According to international standards, pre-trial detention should be a last resort and it should not exceed a reasonable duration -.
The Egyptian authorities routinely use prolonged pre-trial detention, often exceeding the two-year legal limit, as a means of punishing dissidents.
In October, a judge renewed the pre-trial detention of human rights defender Hisham Gaafar, even though he had been detained for more than two years.
Photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, known as Shawkan, had spent more than two years in pre-trial detention when his trial on a range of spurious charges started in 2016. Since then, he has remained detained for the additional two years of his trial, alongside 738 defendants, without conviction.