Egyptian authorities have arrested a journalist after she travelled to the southern city of Luxor to cover the alleged killing of a man during a police raid last week, according to her employer and family.
The al-Manassa news website said Basma Mostafa arrived in Luxor on Saturday morning but subsequently lost contact with her. Al-Manassa said in a report Mostafa believed she was being monitored by police while in the city.
Rights lawyer Karim Abdel-Rady, who is also her husband, said his wife appeared on Sunday at the headquarters of Egypt’s state security prosecution in the capital, Cairo. Another lawyer, Khaled Ali, confirmed the 30-year-old journalist was brought before prosecutors.
Later on Sunday, al-Manassa reported prosecutors had interrogated Mostafa and ordered her to remain in custody for 14 days. It said her lawyers did not know what charges she faced because they were not allowed to attend the investigation.
Al-Manassa wrote on its website the last phone call made by Mostafa was at 11:15am local time on Saturday, in which she said a “policeman had stopped her in the city of Luxor and checked her ID before letting her go … but continued to follow her”.
There was no immediate comment by authorities. The government has in the past arrested journalists who it says are operating without proper permissions. The outlet Mostafa works for is banned from operating in Egypt and its website is blocked.
According to the independent Egyptian news site Mada Masr, al-Manassa and at least 500 other websites have been blocked in Egypt since 2017.
Media outlets are required to have licenses to work in Egypt, but withholding accreditation is often used as a pretext to silence reporting that the state sees as critical. Some journalists have also been sentenced on charges of “spreading false news”, a punishable crime.
Crackdown on dissent
Mostafa had recently reported on the death of a young man while in police detention in Cairo in September. She was in Luxor to cover unrest in the village of el-Awamiya following the death of a man allegedly at the hands of police last week, according to rights group Amnesty International.
The government, under General-turned-President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has overseen an unprecedented crackdown on dissent and media, silencing critics and jailing thousands.
In recent years, Egypt has imprisoned dozens of reporters and occasionally expelled some foreign journalists. It remains among the world’s worst jailers of journalists, along with Turkey and China, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
In June, authorities raided al-Manassa’s offices in Cairo and briefly arrested its editor, Nora Younis, who was released pending an investigation into charges of managing a news website without an operating license.
Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Hussein has also been in held in an Egyptian prison without charges for more than three years.
Al Jazeera has called on the Egyptian government to release Hussein and other journalists, citing deep concerns about his health amid the coronavirus outbreak, but the calls have gone unanswered.
In a report in May, Amnesty said journalism has effectively become a crime over the past four years in Egypt, as authorities clamp down on media outlets and muzzle dissent.
The global rights watchdog said it had documented 37 cases of journalists arrested in the government’s escalating crackdown on press freedom, many charged with “spreading false news” or “misusing social media” under a broad 2015 counterterrorism law that has expanded the definition of terror to include all kinds of dissent.