Instinct says to howl injustice at the sky but the mind says to relay the facts about Hossam Bahgat’s detention by Egyptian military intelligence, earlier today, and let the reader make up their mind.
Approximately 9 hours ago, Bahgat walked into the Military intelligence building and has yet to emerge. All news reports and credible social media information from human rights defenders close to Mr. Bahgat indicated the reason for the summons is unknown.
However, that changed within the hour when a military source close to the investigation told BBC Arabic that military intelligence considers Mr. Bahgat to have published news deemed ‘’a security threat’ to the military establishment.
Supporters of Mr. Bahgat had hoped that the summons was merely that, a summons, but that charge, in the era of the Terrorism law, is a potentially serious and financially exhaustive charge meant to give pause to those who hold dissident views and to neuter a press establishment in Egypt that is very rarely independent.
The BBC source used the term penned into existence by the terrorism law ‘’false news’’ as being the chief accusation levied against Hossam. Earlier this summer, while writing about the Anti-Terrorism Law, I laid out the highly punitive nature of the law which initially sought to jail offenders for 2 years. However, in its final incarnation that clause was deleted but 2 deeply troubling elements were left: a fine of 200-500,000 EGP and a denial of the practice of the profession for one year.
These potential punishments are a kiss of professional and intellectual death for such a prominent, and deeply respected journalist and human rights defender like Hossam Bahgat. For Bahgat, who founded the highly respected EIPR, to come under attack is without question a pointed knife to the heart of the activist and human rights community, as well as journalists. The message is clear: write what we wish or face literal and/or figurative jail.
Hossam’s work is understandably terrifying for a regime looking for hegemonic control over discourse in the public domain. Among the highly thorny issues he tackled in his brilliant investigative career two stand out prominently.
First is Who Let The Jihadis Out which incisively and authoritatively spells out that it was in fact the Supreme Council Of the Armed Forces (SCAF) who released into Sinai, and other spots, extremists, not, as alleged by the regime, ex-president Mohamed Morsi. The second piece the regime likely found embarrassing was a much more recent piece published less than a month ago entitled A Coup Busted which exposes a military trial where 26 Egyptian officers were sentenced for the crime of ‘’regime change’’. Such an article, in the mind of the military institution which believes it is in a state of war against the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorism, was particularly troubling as it highlighted divisions within military ranks. With the army’s ex Chief, Abdel Fatah El Sisi, at the helm of the presidency, it should come as no surprise that Hossam Bahgat’s freedom is under threat today.
Make no mistake about it, there is an element of look at the birdy in the timing of this investigation as Egypt faces a potential disaster with news emerging in the past 48-72 hours that favors a terrorism scenario in relation to the downed Russian plane in Sinai. The cost will be steep for a regime that continues to hemorrhage public support and there is nothing like a potential public case like Hossam Bahgat’s to draw some of the spotlight away from the Russian plane’ fiasco. After all, Bahgat’s name is well known to most Western journalists and the New York Times, as of the writing of this article, had already written about his detainment.
There can be no question: the detainment of Hossam Bahgat is a desperate act by a desperate regime.
Let us hope it is a regime that gains wisdom with utmost speed lest it tighten the noose around its own neck.
But lets us also be blunt: an attack on Hossam is an attack on all journalists.