Nizar Manek, a 2012 OPC scholar, received an e-mail on the morning of January 23 from the editor of the English edition of Le Monde Diplomatique asking him to file a short piece reflecting on the Egyptian revolution and its anniversary two days away. He wrote back “Fairly dramatic situation here… .” He had plenty to write, and he would, but not within that deadline.
The previous night he watched as his two roommates in Cairo were arrested without warrants by Egypt’s security services. Jeremy Hodge, a freelance translator from Los Angeles, was freed four days later without charges and he returned to the United States. Hossam al-Din Salman al-Meneai, was released on February 9 but he said he could still face trial on charges of “spreading false news and endangering the stability of the nation.” Hodge told reporters that he witnessed Meneai being beaten and saw an officer put a gun to Meneai’s head and threaten to pull the trigger.
“The doorbell rang and three people came in and asked for our passports,” said Manek, a British citizen who was placed under a form of preliminary house arrest for two hours before agents took his friends into custody. “We complied with any questions they had.”
PEN International has declared that Egyptian security forces are targeting journalists, writers, civil rights activists, and people with independent or critical voices for their reporting or peaceful activism. Free speech and human rights groups are responding with outrage. In February, the British National Union of Journalists demonstrated in front of the Egyptian embassy in London to protest the persecution of journalists in Egypt.
Three seasoned journalists working for Al Jazeera English were arrested on December 29 and accused of illegally broadcasting from a hotel suite, becoming known as “the Marriott cell:” Peter Greste, an Australian national; Cairo Bureau Chief Mohammed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian, and producer Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian. On January 29, they and 17 other journalists, some in absentia, were referred to trial on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization; calling for disruption of the law and preventing state institutions from working; broadcasting false news to support a terrorist group and harming national interests.
The trial for the 20 journalists was set for February 20. The three Al Jazerra journalists and five others in custody appeared in metal cages in court. They were denied bail and proceedings were quickly adjourned until March 5. The other 12 journalists are being tried in absentia. Sixteen of those charged are Egyptians.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reports at least 60 journalists have been detained since the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi last July and nine remain in custody. Egypt ranks among the top 10 jailors of journalists in the world. Since July 2013, at least five journalists have been killed, 45 journalists assaulted, and 11 news outlets raided in Egypt, according to the CPJ. The group also reported that at least 44 journalists have been detained “without charge in pretrial procedures, which, at times, have gone on for months.”
Manek, who left Egypt for London, won the OPC Harper’s Magazine Scholarship and went on to be a Marjorie Deane fellow at the Financial Times. He arrived in Egypt in August to study Arabic and work as an independent journalist. He misses Egypt and is unsure when he will return. Manek may move to Tunisia.