Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Egyptian Police-State to Deport Swedish Journalist & Blogger

Swedish journalist prevented from entering Egypt
The Associated Press
September 29, 2009
By Paul Schemm

CAIRO — A Swedish journalist and blogger specializing in Egyptian labor issues was stopped by security at Cairo airport early Tuesday and was ordered deported from the country, his girlfriend and the Swedish embassy said.

Per Bjorklund, 30, who spent the last year covering labor strikes in Egypt, was returning to Cairo with his girlfriend from their native Sweden via Prague, when he was detained.

Earlier in September, an American resident of Cairo who participated in a pro-Palestinian demonstration with Bjorklund was also prevented from entering the country.

"They held his passport and they said I had to go on," Bjorklund's girlfriend Anna Sicking told The Associated Press. "They said something came up and they held him."

Egyptian blogger and journalist Hossam el-Hamalawy spoke to Bjorklund at about 4:30 a.m. while he was in detention shortly before his mobile phone went silent.

"He was told his name was on a computer and he was to be returned to Prague," he said.

Sicking waited six hours at the airport for Bjorklund until she was told he had been sent back to Prague.

The Swedish Embassy in Cairo told The Associated Press they were working on the case and trying to learn from the Egyptians why Bjorklund was being expelled.

"We haven't been able to get in touch with him," said Joakim Vaverka, embassy press counselor, adding that it was unclear whether he was still in Egypt. "If he hasn't left he will be asked to leave but we don't know if that decision has been executed yet."

A security official at the airport told AP that Bjorklund was detained by order of State Security, the nation's plainclothes security force, but was still in custody awaiting deportation.

The next flight from Cairo Airport to Prague is early Thursday.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Sicking said the embassy told her that that Bjorklund had probably written something the government didn't like.

"He's Swedish, he writes in Swedish, there are 9 million people there, I don't think it's his writings that have got him in trouble," she said.

Bjorklund writes for Swedish publications on Egyptian labor issues, including a wave of strikes that has been taking place for the last two years. He also has a blog, "Egypt and beyond," in English.

He has been living in Egypt for the last three years. The last time he entered the country was in September 2008, also when returning from spending the summer in Sweden.

On Sept. 3, U.S. citizen Travis Randall was also stopped at Cairo airport and deported from the country.

Both Randall and Bjorklund participated in a small demonstration showing solidarity with Palestinians trapped in Gaza last February. After marching for a few hours, the demonstrators were briefly detained by police.

A German-Egyptian activist, Philip Rizk, who participated in the same demonstration was held for four days in solitary confinement, apparently due to the government sensitivity over any criticism of its Palestinian policy.

Police have detained hundreds of members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood and a number of bloggers following their criticism of Egypt's involvement in the closure of the Gaza Strip, especially during the Israeli attacks there in late December and January.

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