Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Egyptian authorities deport French journalist

Associated Press
Egypt Deports French Journalist in Latest Crackdown on Press
Egypt deported a French journalist without explanation, the reporter said Wednesday, the latest move in an ongoing crackdown by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's government on freedom of expression and the media.

Correspondent Remy Pigaglio, who worked for several publications including Catholic daily La Croix and was based in Egypt since 2014, was returning from vacation in France and prevented from entering the country on Monday. Pigaglio said he has a valid residency work permit and a press card, and was detained for 30 hours at Cairo International Airport before being sent back to Paris.

Authorities took away his mobile phone and examined photos on it, confiscated his passport, and barred him from speaking with embassy officials and family until Monday evening, he said by telephone from Paris. He was held overnight in a cell at the airport.

"I don't understand it at all, and still don't know why they decided to ban me from entering the territory," he said, adding that he wasn't treated badly. He said none of his photos were suspicious but that some of them were of journalists holding a general assembly meeting at their union headquarters amid a sit-in earlier this month.

The French ambassador to Cairo tried to intervene on his behalf but did not manage to prevent the deportation, and is urging Egyptian authorities to reconsider their decision, France's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

In Paris, Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told reporters after a Cabinet meeting that he protested the move, calling his Egyptian counterpart and telling him he "couldn't remain indifferent to a situation that infringes the freedom of the press."

French journalists in Egypt demanded an explanation, saying in a statement that the deportation was a sign of "authorities' growing repression of Egyptian and foreign media: surveillance, arrest, expulsion and detention."

Journalists have been regularly detained, jailed, and prosecuted under the rule of el-Sissi, who led the 2013 military overthrow of the Islamist Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected but divisive president. Foreigners working in a variety of fields have been denied entry to Egypt without explanation.

Egypt was ranked 158 out of 180 countries in the 2015 Press Freedom Index, according to Reporters Without Borders, a freedom of expression advocacy group. In December, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Egypt was second only to China as the world's worst jailer of journalists in 2015.

One of Pigaglio's last articles covered the sit-in at the headquarters of Egypt's journalists' union in downtown Cairo where he took the photos on his phone, and where demonstrators were protesting the arrest of two journalists police seized from the building.

In an unrelated development, defense lawyers said a Cairo appeals court quashed five-year prison terms handed down on May 14 against 47 anti-government protesters convicted of breaking a law that effectively bans street demonstrations.

However, they said the court upheld the lower tribunal's decision to slap a fine of 100,000 pounds (about 10,000 dollars) on each of the 47 protesters. The appeals court verdict was passed late Tuesday.

The 47 were among a total of 152 protesters convicted on May 14 of breaking the demonstrations law during protests on April 25 against the government's decision to hand over control of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. The 152 were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to five years; many were tried in absentia.

Earlier this month, a new draft bill was submitted to Egypt's parliament on regulating the media.
Journalists say it would likely bring the demise of dozens of low-budget, online media outlets serving as refuge for young writers and liberal activists escaping government restrictions on freedom of expression. Awaiting approval by a parliament dominated by el-Sissi loyalists, lawmakers are also set to approve clauses that would ban all live video transmissions without permits. Insiders expect such permits will be denied to non-state media.

European Union member states broadly back el-Sissi and continue to sell Egypt sophisticated weaponry under the rationale that the country needs the firepower to fight a growing insurgency by Islamic militants in the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt, they argue, remains a bulwark of stability in a volatile Middle East.

A French parliamentary delegation was in Cairo the very day Pigaglio was detained, with Philippe Folliot, head of the French-Egyptian friendship group in the National Assembly telling The Associated Press that "nothing" could impact good relations between the two countries. He later however denounced Pigaglio's expulsion on Twitter, saying that it "doesn't improve Egypt's image."

El-Sissi's harsh crackdown on critics has left thousands jailed and fanned doubts over his leadership, with many nations voicing concerns.

Close partner Italy has been particularly critical after an Italian doctoral student was found tortured to death after disappearing on Jan. 25, a day that saw a massive police presence in Cairo, prompting accusations that Egypt's security services were involved.

Italy has withdrawn its ambassador to Cairo over the case of Giulio Regeni and said Egypt was not being sufficiently cooperative in the investigation. Egypt denies its security services were involved in Regeni's killing.


*Sylvie Corbet  contributed to this report.

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