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Hossam Bahgat and Egypt’s censorship crisis

November 9, 2015 at 4:09 pm

In Egypt’s latest attack on freedom of speech, leading independent investigative journalist Hossam Bahgat was arrested on Sunday morning. He is being charged for an article he wrote last month on an attempted coup of the current government, in which he criticised the way in which the Ministry of Defence dealt with the matter in absolute secrecy as well as exposing what he believed should be public information.

A coup busted is the piece that led to Baghat’s arrest, it looks into the secret military trial of 26 officers for plotting “regime change” in coordination with the Brotherhood. He received a summons from Military Intelligence at his home in Alexandria on Thursday, more than three weeks after the article was published.

Bahgat is one of the few journalists in Egypt who seek no political affiliation and work through their belief in exposing the truth to the Egyptian people. He works for Mada Masr, one of Egypt’s only independent news outlets, which is published in English and seeks for a more progressive Egypt by filtering misconceptions that may arise through state propaganda. Investigative journalism is a strong attribute of this newspaper, meaning its editors and contributors are constantly at risk in Egypt’s political climate.

Last Thursday, Bahgat was summoned by the military intelligence and is now being tried in a military court. Before he was brought to his persecutor, he was interrogated for hours, meaning it is almost certain that he was tortured during the process as the Egyptian intelligence, police forces and military are known for their ruthless torture methods. Torture tactics include beatings, rape, solitary confinement and imposing so much agony on the detainee that they end up confessing to crimes they have not committed. Currently his condition is unknown, and there is no way to verify how the Egyptian military is treating him.

His location is also unknown, typical of Egyptian police and military forces when they take a citizen into custody. When he was summoned, he was only given one phone call that lasted for three seconds to tell a family member that he is going to be tried in a military court and will therefore need a lawyer.

It must be remembered that this is not atypical of the Egyptian government. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Egypt is the sixth worst jailer for journalists worldwide. Journalists live in a constant climate of fear in which many are forced to censor themselves, to ensure their work complies with the narrative of state propaganda. There are reports of photographers being shot dead, indiscriminately on the spot, when covering protests or political events. Bahgat knew more than anyone else that he would be putting his life at risk, especially with President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi being notorious for pushing a deteriorating human rights record.

Egypt is currently ranked as 158 out of 180 countries on the Global Press Freedom Index according to Reporters Without Borders. Currently, Egyptian citizens are living in fear of their own thoughts, worried that if they materialise into words that contradict state narrative, they put themselves at risk of being victims of the brutality of the current regime. Anyone who is caught challenging the word of Al-Sisi or state discourse is treated as a national security threat.

Contrary to popular belief, this is not a case of the state versus the Muslim Brotherhood; the said discourse is only used as a scapegoat to justify state brutality and totalitarianism. The international community needs to intervene in the case of Bahgat, as it is becoming increasingly obvious that the Egyptian government feels they can get away with such behaviour because of the global silence on its crimes against freedom and its inhumane torture methods that come as a result. The worsening security situation in Egypt is further proof that such actions of extreme censorship by Al-Sisi’s government are not committed in the name of national security, but in the name of dismantling freedom.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.