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Detention of Egyptian Journalist Prompts Outrage Online

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By ROBERT MACKEY NOV. 8, 2015

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    The arrest of Hossam Bahgat, one of Egypt’s leading investigative journalists, by Egyptian military intelligence on Sunday prompted an outpouring of concern, solidarity and outrage on social networks.

    Mr. Bahgat was forced to “spend the night in military detention because prosecutors are yet to decide whether to issue a detention order or to release him,” according to Heba Morayef, the associate director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a prominent human rights group that Mr. Bahgat founded before turning his attention to journalism after the country’s 2011 revolution.

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    Hossam Bahgat discussed his work in São Paulo, Brazil, in 2013. TEDx Talks, via YouTube

    Writing on Twitter Monday morning, Ms. Morayef, a former researcher for Human Rights Watch, reported that the military had extended Mr. Bahgat’s detention until at least Wednesday.

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    Military prosecutors have ordered Hossam's detention for 4 days on charges of spreading false information.

    — Heba Morayef (@hebamorayef) Nov. 9, 2015
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    Today military prosecutor refused to tell lawyers where Hossam Bahgat is being detained. The last time anyone saw him was 9pm last night.

    — Heba Morayef (@hebamorayef) Nov. 9, 2015

    “The evidence against him — and the sole basis for his interrogation — was the last investigative piece he wrote,” Ms. Morayef reported on Facebook. That investigation, for the independent news site Mada Masr, delved into the convictions of 26 military officers accused of having plotted a coup against the current government.

    “Hossam knew the risk he was taking in writing his last piece, but he remained committed — along with the brilliant editor of Mada Masr — to fighting to protect a space for real investigative journalism in Egypt,” Ms. Morayef added.

    The detention of Mr. Bahgat was so widely denounced on Twitter that an Arabic hashtag expressing solidarity with him became a trending topic in Egypt, as a fellow journalist, Hossam el-Hamalawy, noted.

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    #متضامن_مع_حسام_بهجت is trending pic.twitter.com/qDoqElaR6i

    — Hossam عمو حسام (@3arabawy) Nov. 8, 2015
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    .@hossambahgat disturbed the "public peace" as written articles are in same league as riots & floods #IstandwithBahgat #متضامن_مع_حسام_بهجت

    — Amro Ali (@_amroali) Nov. 8, 2015

    Mr. Bahgat’s arrest, coming as Egypt struggles to contain leaks from the investigation into the crash of a Russian jet near the resort Sharm el Sheikh, was also criticized in English by local and foreign correspondents in Egypt, activist bloggers, rights groups and analysts of the region’s politics.

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    As a hr defender,@hossambahgat made best sense of muddled #egypt politics&laws.as journalist he vetted law enforcement and legal procedures

    — Sarah El Deeb (@seldeeb) Nov. 8, 2015
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    Egypt's military intelligence left one of the country's biggest catastrophes and probably scandals and is investigating @hossambahgat

    — The Big Pharaoh (@TheBigPharaoh) Nov. 8, 2015
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    It feels as if #Egypt is trying to drown out its incompetence at #Sharm by creating an uproar over arresting @hossambahgat

    — sherief gaber (@sheriefgbr) Nov. 8, 2015
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    #Egypt: where decent people like Hossam Bahgat who love their country and want to improve it are treated like indecent savage traitors.

    — Amr Kotb (@AmrQotb) Nov. 8, 2015
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    A bomb on a plane is not a threat to national security, but @hossambahgat investigation is.. #ThisIsEgypt #RussianPlane

    — Sarah Mohsen (@sarah_m94) Nov. 8, 2015
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    (1/3) Hossam is a rare specimen who managed 2 safeguard his faith in Egypt’s prospects despite turmoil & perpetual impediment, & showed us

    — hamed sinno (@hamedleila) Nov. 8, 2015
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    (2/3) it was possible 2 fight 4 the future of the arab world out of conviction, not naiveté. I have always envied Egyptians 4 having him.

    — hamed sinno (@hamedleila) Nov. 8, 2015
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    Initial charge against @hossambahgat according to him seems to be publishing false and inaccurate information that harm national security

    — Lina Attalah (@Linaattalah) Nov. 8, 2015
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    Preliminary investigation by Egypt military seems to suggest that undesirable journalism caused Russian plane crash over Sinai. #FreeHossam

    — Arash Karami (@thekarami) Nov. 8, 2015
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    Somehow, I don't think prosecuting @hossambahgat, a world renowned rights activist, in a military court, is going to bring tourists. #Egypt

    — HA Hellyer د. إتش (@hahellyer) Nov. 8, 2015
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    Egypt goes after one of its top human rights defenders and journalist Hossam Bahgat.

    — Wael Eskandar (@weskandar) Nov. 8, 2015
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    Paying no price, Egypt hits new low: prosecutes @HossamBahgat, once its leading rights defender, now journalist. https://t.co/yjaQ49V36o

    — Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) Nov. 8, 2015
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    Timing of @hossambahgat interrogation instructive in that it is happening at point of heightened scrutiny of Egypt, and regime proceeds.

    — Michael Hanna (@mwhanna1) Nov. 8, 2015
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    "No one is oppressed in Egypt," Sisi told @bbclysedoucet two days before Hossam Bahgat's detention by the military. https://t.co/2VTYP2jccz

    — DavidKenner (@DavidKenner) Nov. 8, 2015

    Several Egyptians pointed out that the move against Mr. Bahgat had perhaps backfired by drawing much more attention to his work.

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    I think more people read @hossambahgat report about coup today than when he published it from less than a month #nomiltrials #FreeHossam

    — Zeinobia (@Zeinobia) Nov. 8, 2015
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    After @hossambahgat is formally charged his investigative pieces-stellar journalism- r making the rounds, shared by all on social media

    — Sarah El Deeb (@seldeeb) Nov. 8, 2015
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    This is how it backfires: @hossambahgat's article is going to get read & discussed more widely than before. https://t.co/gHfhxKLRNv #Egypt

    — Amro Ali (@_amroali) Nov. 8, 2015

    Joshua Stacher, a political scientist at Kent State University and the author of “Adaptable Autocrats: Regime Power in Egypt and Syria,” argued that the arrest was evidence of the failure of American and British attempts to engage with the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former head of military intelligence who seized power in 2013.

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    US State & Defense Depts are a part of Egypt's Milit regime. They bear responsibility 4 what happens 2 every1 unjustly arrested #FreeHossam

    — josh stacher (@jstacher) Nov. 8, 2015
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    The US & UK condone this coup-behavior in Egypt, where military intelligence is the leading governing source, by providing diplomatic cover

    — josh stacher (@jstacher) Nov. 8, 2015
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    Sign "anti-terrorism" cooperation MOUs, take pics with paramilitaries & keep going on about human rights in Sisi's Egypt. USG's policy fails

    — josh stacher (@jstacher) Nov. 8, 2015
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    #FreeHossam Bahgat pic.twitter.com/6dYD0xc2ia

    — josh stacher (@jstacher) Nov. 8, 2015

    Mr. Bahgat, who had been an enthusiastic participant in the toppling of Egypt’s previous autocrat, Hosni Mubarak, in 2011, also took part in the huge street protests that drove Mohamed Morsi, his elected successor as president, from office in 2013. As Mr. Bahgat explained in a message posted on his Twitter account on June 30, 2013, he lost faith in Mr. Morsi when graphic visual evidence surfaced that his Islamist supporters had tortured protesters outside the presidential palace in Cairo in late 2012.

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    Morsi could have survived autocratic moves OR attacking and torturing his opponents. Committing both made him our enemy.

    — hossam bahgat (@hossambahgat) Dec. 7, 2012
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    I'm off to join the masses. For the record, this when Morsi stopped being my president http://t.co/BA0he044UJ

    — hossam bahgat (@hossambahgat) June 30, 2013

    The detention of Mr. Bahgat comes days after supporters of the Sisi government reacted with scorn and fury online to a report, first published by The Daily Mail in London, that in August the pilot of a British charter flight was forced to dodge live fire from Egyptian military exercises near the airport at Sharm el Sheikh.

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    #daily_mail_pilot #طيار_الديلي_ميل #حرب_الشائعات pic.twitter.com/aCodtVJ8Oe

    — كاريكاتير عصام حنفى (@Esamcartoon) Nov. 9, 2015

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    The Egyptian news media, Mr. Bahgat noted in a local press review on Saturday, was almost universal in its support for the idea that any critical reporting on security around that airport, in the wake of the Russian jet crash, must be part of a conspiracy to tarnish Egypt and destroy its lucrative tourism industry.

    Shahira Amin, a journalist who walked out of a job on state television during the 2011 uprising, pointed to another sign that the authorities are cracking down on dissent.

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    TV presenter Azza Hennawy suspended and investigated at state tv 4calling on Sisi to hold officials accountable 4 laxity in dealing w floods

    — shahiraamin13 (@sherryamin13) Nov. 8, 2015

    As Ms. Amin reported, a television news anchor, Azza Hennawy, was suspended by a state-owned channel and placed under investigation for “deviating from the text and giving her opinion in a news program,” last week when she called for officials to be held to account for failing to prevent flooding in the city of Alexandria.

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    Egypt state TV suspends host for 'lack of neutrality' https://t.co/IRWgMXxyam pic.twitter.com/zorFFVipCc

    — Ahram Online (@ahramonline) Nov. 9, 2015

    The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information noted in a statement on the case that such punishment is not handed out when journalists on state television or private channels routinely veer off-script to heap praise on the president or the government.

    #auto

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