Mada Masr investigative reporter Hossam Bahgat. A photo from his Twitter account.
By Mohamed Atef
CAIRO, Nov. 12 (Aswat Masriya) - Close to a year after Seymour Hersh advised Egyptian investigative journalist Hossam Bahgat to "keep on going" and to publish stories without fear of reprisal, Bahgat was summoned by military intelligence and faced the all-too-familiar charge of “publishing false news that harms national interests."
The exchange between Bahgat and leading American investigative journalist Hersh dates back to December 2014 at the seventh annual forum of the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) in Jordan. Baghat broached the issue of tackling "institutionalized censorship" which has led to the fact that many stories in the Middle East are going untold and where only "the government's version" dominates.
He explained that Egypt is one of those countries, listing media blackouts on the insurgency in Sinai, Egypt's level of involvement in Libya and a situation where "the war on terror... is not being interrogated."
Though there are journalists who "are willing to live with the risk," said Bahgat, "they are not writing their stories because they won't get published because their editors are either pro-regime or think it's too dangerous to run those stories."
Hersh then advised Bahgat to "put out the story. You tell it, you tell it online, you try and find social media , you try and do what you can, you have to be careful because you don't want them coming in the middle of the night to take you away, so you just do what you do."
"You can't back off," he added, "I hear your question, I know how hard it is .. it's impossible basically, very hard but you have to spread information."
Bahgat, who began contributing to Mada Masr website in 2014 after an 11-year career as a human rights advocate and researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights which he founded and directed from 2002-2013, was detained and interrogated by military prosecutors earlier this week.
He was summoned nearly one month after publishing a controversial piece titled "A Coup Busted", a meticulous investigation into the secret military trial of 26 army officers accused of plotting "regime change" in coordination with the banned Muslim Brotherhood.
Bahgat was charged in accordance with articles 102 and 188 of the penal code.
The former imposes imprisonment and a fine of between EGP 50 and EGP 200, or either penalty on whoever “broadcasts deliberately false news data or tendentious rumors or propagates exciting publicity, if this is liable to disturb public security, spread horror among the people or cause harm and damage public interest”.
The article proceeds that a fine of between EGP 100 and EGP 500 “shall be the inflicted penalty if the crime occurs in times of war”.
Article 188 penalizes by imprisonment for a maximum period of one year and a fine of between EGP 5,000 and EGP 20,000 or either penalty shall be inflicted on whoever “publishes with ill will by any of the foregoing methods, false news, data or rumors or fabricated or forged papers or falsely attributed to a third party, if this is likely to disturb public peace, create fright among the people, or cause harm or damage to public interest”.
Amid local and international calls including by the UN, human rights groups and the US Department of State, he was released two days later after being made to sign a document stating that he will "abide by legal and security procedures when publishing material pertaining to the Armed Forces" and that he "wasn't subjected to any physical or moral harm during the period of custody."
It's unknown whether the charges against Bahgat still stand.