CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian security forces have arrested two journalists, including one sick with COVID-19, the latest step in a sweeping crackdown on news media during the pandemic, an international press watchdog reported Friday.
On separate days in late August, officers burst into the homes of Hany Greisha and El-Sayed Shehta without warning, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Both work as editors for Al-Youm Al-Sabae, or Seventh Day, a prominent pro-government news outlet.
Greisha was ordered detained for 15 days on charges of spreading false news and joining a terrorist group, CPJ said, citing his family’s official complaint to the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate.
Under President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, Egyptian prosecutors have frequently brought vague terrorism-related charges against reporters, secular activists and online critics, in addition to Islamist political opponents, drawing widespread scorn from human rights monitors.
Earlier this week, security forces raided Shehta’s home in northern Egypt, confiscating his laptop, cell phone, money and IDs, CPJ said, adding that it remains unclear whether he faces any charges. The deputy managing editor had been in quarantine after testing positive for the coronavirus a few days earlier, according to a statement from his wife.
Officers took Shehta to a police station in the Nile Delta city of Zagazig, where he collapsed and lost consciousness, CPJ reported. He remains shackled to a hospital bed in the city.
The Interior Ministry did not respond to requests for comment by The Associated Press and a government media officer did not answer calls seeking comment.
It was not immediately clear why security forces targeted the two editors. Egypt’s counterterrorism legislation broadly empowers authorities to exert tight controls over traditional media and crack down on all kinds of dissent. Amnesty International released a report earlier this year detailing how a growing number of journalists at state-owned media outlets have landed in jail for expressing their private views on social media.
The coronavirus pandemic has presented new challenges for the government. When infections surged this summer, threatening to overwhelm hospitals, authorities arrested journalists who questioned official virus statistics and doctors who complained about their working conditions. As of Friday, the country had reported more than 99,000 cases, including 5,479 deaths, one of the highest death tolls in the region.
Although Egypt’s daily virus case count has declined in recent weeks, reports of suspected coronavirus outbreaks in the country’s crowded prisons have increasingly come to light. In July, a prominent Egyptian journalist who had been jailed on charges of broadcasting false news died of COVID-19 just days after his release, stoking fears of unchecked contagion in what rights groups describe as packed and dirty cells.
“Egyptian authorities should be urgently releasing journalists from its prisons because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s regional program coordinator. “Instead, (Egypt) is diligently rounding up more to throw in jail — including now one who was sick and in quarantine.”