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Egypt Frees Top Reporter Hossam Bahgat After Chilling Reminder That Crackdown Continues

StoryNovember 10, 2015
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A leading journalist and human rights activist has been released in Egypt following his controversial arrest this weekend. Hossam Bahgat was detained after publishing a report on the secret convictions of 26 military officers accused of plotting a coup against the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Bahgat was interrogated for hours on charges of publishing false news harmful to national security. On Monday, officials announced they would hold him for four days. But after an outcry in Egypt and around the world, Bahgat was released earlier today. We are joined from Cairo by Sharif Abdel Kouddous, independent journalist and Democracy Now! correspondent in Egypt.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to Egypt, where a leading journalist and human rights activist has been released following his controversial arrest this weekend. Hossam Bahgat was detained after publishing a report on the secret convictions of 26 military officers accused of plotting a coup against the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Bahgat was interrogated for hours on charges of publishing false news harmful to national security. According to lawyers, he was offered a deal—never write about Egypt’s armed forces again, and he could walk free. He refused. On Monday, officials announced they would hold him for four days. But after an outcry in Egypt and around the world, Bahgat was released earlier today.

For more, we go to Cairo to Sharif Abdel Kouddous, independent journalist, Democracy Now! correspondent in Egypt.

Sharif, can you talk about both the detention of Hossam and his release just a little while ago today?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, it was news that caused a lot of amount—a great amount of joy here in Egypt when he was released. But at the same time, his arrest is yet another instance of state intimidation against journalists and a crackdown against press freedoms in general.

Hossam Bahgat is very well known both in Egypt and internationally. He founded the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, which is Egypt’s probably leading human rights group. And then, a couple of years ago, he turned to investigative journalism and quickly established himself as arguably the premier investigative journalist, both locally and internationally, in Egypt and penned a series of exposés, painstakingly researched, very well written and very well reported. And the latest one was looking at this secret military trial of 26 army officers who were convicted of plotting a coup in coordination with the Muslim Brotherhood. He got a hold of the indictment sheet. He spoke to relatives of the officers. No one had reported on this except for a very brief piece in BBC, and he really delved into it, investigated the allegations of torture, that these officers were tortured, as well.

And following this, he was questioned. After his arrest, he was summoned to military intelligence, and he was questioned for hours and hours, much of it—some of it without lawyers or allowed to make a phone call—about this one article. He was held then for about a day and a half. No one knew where he was. He was held at military intelligence and was only released this morning.

So, you know, this is really an excellent reporter. And if Hossam Bahgat is guilty of publishing false news, that makes every journalist in Egypt a damned liar, and we’re all guilty along with him.

AMY GOODMAN: Hossam Bahgat was a regular guest on Democracy Now! I want to turn to comments he made on the show in October of 2013 suggesting the U.S. and other countries should suspend aid to Egypt.

HOSSAM BAHGAT: In Egypt, especially after the massacres, of course, our position was that there should be investigations, there should be an independent fact finding, and there should be accountability. And until that takes place and until the government also accepts responsibility for these killings, there should be a suspension of the provision of any arms or tools of repression from any country in the world. We’re not just talking about the U.S. military assistance. And any resumption of the sale of weapons or the provision of weapons or tools of repression to the Egyptian government must be conditioned on accepting the retraining and provision of, you know, new tools for riot control, but that business should not continue just as usual when it comes to Egypt.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Hossam Bahgat on Democracy Now! two years ago. Sharif, as we wrap up, where you left off—what message this sends to you and to other journalists, to Egyptian society? Yes, Hossam Bahgat has been released, but he was also held, and that is a strong message.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: He was held. He’s been intimidated. We don’t know yet if he’s going to be facing a military trial. That’s been made unclear. And we have to remember, there’s many other journalists that are in prison. There’s three that have been sentenced to life who were at the Rabaa protest. There’s Mahmoud Abou Zied, known as Shawkan, who’s been held for over two years without trial, which is in violation of Egypt’s own penal code. And Sisi has become increasingly hostile towards the media, recently condemning the media for the criticism of the government’s lack of response for floods in Alexandria. A TV state anchor was recently suspended for calling for people to be held accountable. We’ve seen the owner of one of Egypt’s biggest newspapers be arrested on corruption charges, though some speculate it’s because of the newspaper’s increasing criticism. And so, this is the environment that journalists are operating in, one of intimidation, of censorship and of arbitrary arrest. So, it’s become one of the most dangerous places in the world to work as a journalist. But people like Hossam Bahgat really give us hope, because he continues this kind of important work and speaking truth to power.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Sharif, thanks so much for being with us, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Democracy Now! correspondent in Egypt, just back from Yemen.

A happy birthday to Pedro Rodríguez. Democracy Now! is hiring a development director to lead our fundraising efforts. Go to our website at democracynow.org. We also have internships available.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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