By Hend Kortam
CAIRO, Dec. 2 (Aswat Masriya) - Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the arrest of Egyptian journalist and researcher Ismail Alexandrani is "unlawful" and along with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), called for his release on Tuesday.
These calls come as the Sinai affairs expert has been ordered detained for 15 days by State Security prosecutors who interrogated him for eight hours on Tuesday, before leveling three charges against him: joining an illegal group, spreading rumors and disturbing public peace.
Alexandrani, 32, has denied all charges.
HRW's deputy Middle East director, Joe Stork said Alexandrani's arrest is "deeply disturbing," adding in a statement on the group's website that it "fits a pattern of Egyptian security agencies arresting people whose writings don’t conform to official views."
He added that what happened to Alexandrani is "clear intimidation and has little to do with rule of law."
Meanwhile, CPJ's MENA research associate Jason Stern said Alexandrani's arrest is the "latest attempt by the Egyptian government to silence critical reporting through force and intimidation," in a statement also posted on the group's website.
Alexandrani was arrested at Egypt's Hurghada airport on Sunday upon his return from Berlin, where he was speaking at a conference titled "Deconstructing Islamist Terrorism in Egypt," organised by the German Council on Foreign Relations.
His wife Khadeega had said on Twitter that she learned that Egypt's Homeland Security (also known as State Security) had him arrested based on a report filed against him by the Egyptian embassy in Berlin.
But she said today that this was proven "to be wrong" and that the interrogation showed that her husband was arrested based on a "memorandum" issued "internally" in May.
HRW said it has "documented how security agencies, particularly the National Security agency, have sweeping powers to put citizens on watch lists and apply travel bans without any judicial or prosecution oversight."
Alexandrani is a multiple-award winning journalist and researcher has spoken about Sinai affairs in seminars across the world, according to his blog. North Sinai is the site of fighting between insurgents and Egyptian security forces, which say they have killed hundreds of militants over the past few months.
With severely restricted access, journalists are unable to report from Sinai, especially since anti-terror legislation passed earlier this year imposes hefty fines on news organisations that contradict official statements.
CPJ says "Alexandrani has written critically of the Egyptian military's efforts to combat extremist militias" in Sinai, adding that "government censorship and intimidation has resulted in scarce independent reporting about fighting in the peninsula and its toll on the civilian population."
During his interrogation, prosecutors inspected Alexandrani's laptop and cell phone and even his wallet.
He told prosecutors that his published work which is under investigation was journalistic, being "newsworthy and informational" in nature. He added that he stopped writing news in September 2014.
He did however, continue to publish his opinions. Alexandrani wrote for the Lebanon-based Assafir Arabi (which translates into Arab Ambassador) among other titles, at the time of his arrest. The news service described him as one of their "most distinguished writers," in a short statement on his arrest.
He is also a researcher at the Paris-based Arab Reform Initiative and was the Visiting Arab Journalist Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center from February to July 2015, where he worked on a project titled, “The Security Policy in Sinai: US-Egyptian Common Interest or Postponed Expensive Bill?"
He volunteered as a researcher on Sinai affairs at the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights and is a Regan-Fascell Democracy Fellowship alumnus.
Over the past two years, Egypt has passed three anti-terror legislation and has outlawed two political groups including the Muslim Brotherhood.
But many who are against Aelxandrani's arrest and interrogation are highlighting that he was openly critical of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The calls for Alexandrani's release by the two international watchdogs, HRW and CPJ, come after similar calls by human rights groups in Egypt, 14 of whom said in a joint statement that he and "all prisoners of conscience" should be released.
Many on social media are also calling for Alexandrani's release using the hashtag "#free_Ismail" and other ones to circulate the calls.
Alexandrani's case is the most recent of a string of cases in the past two months where journalists have been detained and questioned by Egyptian authorities.
In October, Hesham Gaafar, the chairman of Mada Foundation NGO, journalist Hossam el-Din el-Sayed and journalist Mahmoud Mostafa were arrested within less than a week in separate incidents. The three are still in custody.
Last month, investigative journalist Hossam Bahgat was arrested and interrogated by the military prosecution also in connection with work he published as contributor to Mada Masr news website. Bahgat was released two days later amid calls by local and international organisations, including the United Nations, to set him free immediately.