UN human rights experts today welcomed the release of Egyptian journalist Hossam Bahgat but expressed their “grave concern” over the “very difficult environment” for journalists and human rights defenders in Egypt that deters reporting and intimidates writers and activists of all kinds.
In a joint statement, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, said “even after his release, his detention sends a signal of disrespect for the very principles of freedom of expression that [Egyptian] President [Abdel Fattah] Sisi only days ago claimed his Government upheld.”
This statement is endorsed by the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Seong-Phil Hong; the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai; the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan Méndez; and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Mónica Pinto.
Mr. Bahgat was summoned to a military intelligence building in Cairo, Egypt on Sunday morning, and then interrogated without legal counsel for more than eight hours, on the subject of his writing, and in particular about an investigative report he wrote for an independent on-line news site called Mada Masr back in October.
He is also a member of UNDP's Global Civil Society Advisory Council and the founder of the group Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
The rights experts said in their statement that “according to credible reporting, we understand that dozens of reporters are being held by Egyptian authorities today.”
“This adds to the already very difficult environment in which journalists and human rights defenders operate in Egypt,” they said.
Mr. Frost expressed his deep concern saying “that the fear of criminalization and of being detained, even if not ultimately charged, creates an environment that deters reporting and intimidates writers and activists of all kinds.”
Earlier in the week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also underscored the importance of safeguarding freedom of speech and association in Egypt, saying that pluralism and a vibrant civil society are key for achieving long-term stability in the country, including the guarantee that all peaceful voices are heard and represented.
The UN Special Rapporteurs work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.