CAIRO — Egyptian police detained three opposition journalists who were conducting street interviews in downtown Cairo about President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s request for small donations of spare change to fund development programs, security officials said Saturday.
They said the three — Hamdy Mokhtar, Mohammed Hassan, and Osama al-Bishbishi — were arrested Sept. 26 and face charges of publishing false news and belonging to a banned organization, Egyptian parlance for the Muslim Brotherhood group. The three were remanded into police custody for three days pending further investigation, they said.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, said one of the three, Mokhtar, was arrested in July 2015 at the state morgue where he was covering the arrival of the bodies of Brotherhood leaders killed by security forces. It did not elaborate, but security forces in July last year raided what they called a Brotherhood hideout in a suburban apartment, killing nine of the group’s leaders. The Brotherhood at the time said they were killed in cold blood.
Mokhtar was released on bail two months later but sentenced in absentia to three years in prison in January 2016 for publishing false news, according to CPJ.
A fourth journalist, Noura Nasser, was arrested Sept. 27 as she interviewed Egyptians with postgraduate degrees protesting outside the Cabinet’s office to demand jobs. Nasser, who was released two days later, also reports for an opposition news website. The CPJ said Nasser also faced charges of publishing false news.
The security officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
El-Sissi said last week he would like to see a mechanism set up that would allow Egyptians to donate fractions of checks they cash at banks, arguing that this could amount to millions of pounds. It was the latest in a series of unconventional suggestions to restore the economy, and was ridiculed by many on social media.
In a statement issued Friday, CPJ called on the Egyptian government to immediately drop all charges against the four reporters.
“The delusion that jailing journalists on charges of reporting ‘false news’ for interviewing people on the street or photographing a protest will change reality is a false hope,” said Joel Simon, the group’s executive director.
Authorities have cracked down on dissent since the 2013 military ouster of an elected Islamist president. The police have shown little tolerance for journalists filming or interviewing people in public, unless it is done at government-sanctioned events or by pro-government media outlets.
CPJ says 23 journalists were imprisoned in Egypt in 2015, making it the second-worst jailer of journalists, after China. The government denies jailing anyone because of their reporting.