Nov 10, 2015 3:26 PM
Egypt army releases journalist after 'false news' accusation
The Associated Press
CAIRO (AP) Egypt's military on Tuesday released a leading investigative journalist and human rights advocate who had been detained under accusations of spreading "false news," although it was unclear what charges he may face.
Hossam Bahgat was detained Sunday after being summoned to an intelligence building in Cairo. He said in a statement Tuesday he was released after signing a document that said he would abide by "legal and security procedures" when writing about the military.
Bahgat said he was questioned exclusively about an article he wrote last month which described the August 2015 conviction of a group of military officers on charges of conspiring with the banned Muslim Brotherhood to plot a coup against President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. His detention was a result of a lawsuit filed by the military intelligence, he said.
Bahgat said military prosecution officials told him he was accused of spreading false news that would "compromise national security," and of maliciously spreading information that would "harm the public peace."
"I still do not know the fate of the investigation with me regarding the two mentioned accusations," Bahgat said. "The defense lawyers will try to find out more in the coming days."
Bahgat, who founded the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights in 2002, said he "resisted several attempts to intimidate and entice me to waive my right to call a lawyer."
During his detention, Bahgat said he was escorted around by armed men in civilian clothes, and was blindfolded on three occasions.
At one point, he was taken to an empty field, told to take off his shirt and trousers, and was then inspected superficially by a doctor, he said. He was also held temporarily in "a narrow, dark cell void of anything but two blankets on the floor."
Bahgat is one of Egypt's best-known rights advocates, honored with a Human Rights Watch Alison Des Forges Award in 2011.
The army had said he was referred to military trial for "compromising national security" and writing about the military without its written permission, while lawyers said he faced charges of spreading "false news."
A day earlier, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon expressed concern over the detention, with his spokesman calling it "the latest of a series of detentions of human rights defenders and others that is profoundly worrying."
Egypt's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday denounced Ban's concerns, saying his statement "jumped to conclusions" over press freedoms and that the Bahgat investigation was clearly related to possible violations of the penal code.
Bahgat's detention, which caused a wave of uproar among activists, is part of a sweeping crackdown on critical media launched in the aftermath of the military overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.
As military chief, el-Sissi led Morsi's overthrow during mass protests against his divisive rule, and was elected president last year.
Associated Press writers Lee Keath and Maram Mazen contributed to this report.