CAIRO — The lawyer for three Egyptian journalists who were arrested while conducting street interviews said on Sunday that they were beaten and tasered by security officers during questioning at a central Cairo station.
Fatma Serag told The Associated Press the three — Hamdy Mokhtar, 38, Mohammed Hassan 18, and Osama el-Bishbishi, 35 — were accused of supplying Turkey-based television networks linked to the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood group with “negative” videos of life under the rule of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
The three, arrested on Sept. 26, were remanded into police custody for 15 days pending further investigation. They face charges of publishing false news and membership in the Brotherhood.
El-Sissi led the 2013 military ouster of Mohammed Morsi, the elected Islamist president who hails from the Brotherhood.
Serag said the beating and tasering took place at a police station located in the upscale Garden City district in central Cairo where the three were taken immediately after their arrest in the city’s downtown area. She said the three, while blindfolded, were questioned by agents of the domestic security agency from the evening of Sept. 26 until the next day.
She sat in on a second round of questioning by prosecutors, which lasted nearly nine hours, and has paid the three daily visits at the police station where they are held separately from criminal suspects.
Of the three, she said, Mokhtar bore the most visible signs of torture, with his shoulders bruised from the tasering.
Mokhtar and Hassan worked for an online news site, al-Nabaa, while el-Bishbishi is employed by Balady, another site, said the lawyer. “They are neither members of nor sympathizers with the Brotherhood,” she said.
She said the three were conducting street interviews on the strict Islamic dress code for women in public but were confronted by passers-by who derided them for not focusing on el-Sissi’s request, made earlier on the day in a televised address, for small donations of spare change to fund development programs.
“There was a raucous scene that attracted the attention of police deployed outside the nearby Press Syndicate building,” she said. “It was a random arrest.”
Security officials and the New York-based Committee to protect Journalists, or CPJ, said over the weekend that the three were interviewing passers-by about el-Sissi’s request, the latest in a series of unconventional suggestions to restore the economy, which was ridiculed by many on social media.
Authorities have cracked down on dissent since Morsi’s ouster three years ago. The police have in the last three years 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.