Egyptian Military Questions Journalist Known for Disputing Government

cafe in Cairo. The questioning of a prominent journalist on Sunday raised alarms about attempts to suppress domestic dissent as the Egyptian government grapples with questions about the crash of a Russian passenger jet. Credit Nariman El-Mofty/Associated Press

Egyptian military intelligence on Sunday summoned for questioning an investigative journalist who is also the founder of Egypt’s premier human rights group, raising alarms about attempts to suppress domestic dissent as the government grapples with questions about the crash of a Russian passenger jet.

The journalist, Hossam Bahgat, 36, founded the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the most highly regarded domestic rights organization, in 2002. Since the military takeover in 2013, however, he has distinguished himself as a unique voice in the Egyptian news media by writing a series of painstakingly researched investigative reports that have called into question official government statements.

One report by Mr. Bahgat showed that the country’s top generals had overseen the release of scores of seasoned jihadists from Egypt’s jails during the period when the generals governed the country after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The generals had sought to place blame for the release of the jihadists on former President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, whom the military ousted in 2013.

Another report, based on court testimony Mr. Bahgat obtained, showed that corruption and self-dealing by former President Mubarak had been abetted by Ibrahim Mehleb, who was prime minister at the time.

Mr. Bahgat’s most recent report investigated the quiet conviction of 26 military officers accused of having plotted a coup against the current government. The report raised questions about potential dissent within the ranks and also about potential retribution against officers who had crossed the secret police.

Mr. Bahgat published his articles in English and Arabic in the independent online publication Mada Masr. He also wrote a pointed daily review of Egypt’s Arabic-language news media, often noting its fidelity to the official government line.

In his most recent review, on Saturday, Mr. Bahgat had poked fun at the Egyptian news media for its unanimous adherence to the government lineabout a conspiracy to blame terrorism for the Russian jet’s crash, which killed all 224 people on board.

Egyptian news outlets all agreed that “the West is conspiring against Egypt and punishing Russia because it is fighting in Syria, and Egypt is the one who is paying the price,” Mr. Bahgat summarized, “through the lies published by Britain and the West generally about the explosion of the plane through terrorism and the negligence of airport security, in order to sabotage our tourist industry.”

It was unclear why military intelligence had summoned Mr. Bahgat, who recently returned to Egypt after spending a year as a visiting fellow at the School of Journalism at Columbia University. His friends said he had received a written summons at his home ordering him to appear at 9 a.m. on Sunday. By 2 p.m., he had not yet reappeared from the building. He was not allowed to bring a telephone, a lawyer or anyone else with him inside.

NY Times


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