Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: A Year of Animal Headlines in Egypt

Mada Masr
Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Jano Charbel 

Animals proved to be veritable news-makers in Egypt in 2015: From monkey antics on the streets of Nasr City to aggressive airport cats, and from calls to give up meat in protest at rising prices to calls to take up camel meat as an alternative, animals made headlines throughout the year.

Local residents chasing monkeys in the streets in Cairo’s eastern district of Nasr City came to public attention in March. Over a dozen moneys escaped from a veterinary hospital, wreaking havoc, jumping onto ledges of buildings, windowsills, and into trees.

Some outlets reported that 14 monkeys – with others reporting 18 – escaped together from a clinic into a highly populated urban landscape.

Some residents of Nasr City reported that these monkeys rampaged through their urban gardens, eating and destroying some vegetation.

Some users of social networking sites in Nasr City called for poisoning the monkeys while others proposed non-lethal ways of capturing them, such as luring them into cages.

A local resident tweeted: “We should welcome the monkeys and let them live among us like the street dogs do.”

How these monkeys were ultimately captured or apprehended was not subsequently reported on.

Then there was the donkey who made his way to Cairo International Airport on April 27. After breaching fences and several lines of security, the donkey reportedly found its way to Terminal 3. For two days, the donkey lingered around the parking lot as talk-show hosts discussed the issue.

“The donkey was chased out by the police and security personnel at the airport,” a statement by the airport police force's general directorate read, adding that the donkey is believed to belong to one of the garbage collectors who frequent the area surrounding the airport.

A source at the airport described the incident at the time to privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm as an “unprecedented scandal,” that can only be an indication of “serious flaws in the performance of the Ministries of Interior and Civil Aviation.”

According to the anonymous source, it was not the first time this donkey had breached security surrounding the airport.

Photos and videos of the donkey wandering through the parking lot at the airport were widely circulated on social media platforms. Several users suggested that even donkeys want to leave the country. “Donkey emigration … The donkey headed to Terminal 3 in hopes of leaving Egypt and its problems behind.”

In a separate incident in Terminal 3 of Cairo Airport, the chief quarantine officer there told media outlets that four EgyptAir employees were injured when a male cat violently attacked them on September 30. This cat had been sheltering in a storage room, and reportedly pounced upon the employees as they were attempting to remove some items from storage. Scratching and biting them, this aggressive kitty left his mark on the four employees.

Associated Press reported that authorities and staff were trying to capture a “rebellious feline” running around through the airport – ahead of a visit by representatives of the International Civil Aviation Organization. AP reported that as of October 28, airport staff were still chasing the cat around, unable to catch it. Passengers and airport staff had reportedly been feeding it.
AP added that airport authorities had declared the cat to be “persona non grata.”

Camels also captured headlines this year. An escaped camel ran loose through the new campus of the American University in Cairo (AUC) in May after jumping out a vehicle and then running through the campus gates.

When American porn actress Carmen De Luz posted a photo of herself in skimpy underwear on a camel during a visit to the Giza Pyramids, local media outlets reported that she was shooting an erotic film by the historic site.

An investigation ensued and De Luz apologized on her Twitter account for any inconvenience that her actions may have caused.

In other news, camel meat — which is not widely consumed as a source of protein in Egypt — is being promoted as an alternative to beef and other red meats, which is growing increasingly costly and beyond the means of many Egyptians. The state-owned Al-Gomhuriyya has recently been encouraging the expansion of the camel meat industry, indicating it currently represents just 2 percent of domestic meat consumption.

Some nutrition specialists have even been questioning the use of donkey meat as a source of protein. Speaking on a talk-show broadcast on Al-Assema satellite channel in June, Hussein Mansour, president of Egypt’s National Food Safety Agency, commented that donkey meat is indeed mixed-in among other meats and sold at some markets and restaurants in order to cut their expenses.

The only way to ensure that donkey meat — or that of cats or dogs — was not being mixed into minced beef was to conduct DNA tests on samples, he said.

With the cost of beef ranging between LE35 per kilo (for lower grade meat) and LE100, a popular campaign emerged in August to boycott red meats altogether.

The campaign dubbed ‘Balaha Lahma,’ which loosely translates as “Let’s forget about meat,” encouraged consumers to refrain from purchasing meat with the aim of forcing the meat industry to bring down its prices to affordable levels. While this campaign picked up steam prior to the Eid al-Adha holiday when sheep are traditionally slaughtered, and even received mainstream media attention, it does not appear to have made much of an impact on the market prices of meat, or the population’s dietary habits.

Also related to the Eid al-Adha holiday and the consumption of livestock, poet Fatima Naoot stood trial this year on charges of blasphemy due to her critical online postings regarding the ritual slaughter of animals on this Islamic festival commemorating Abraham’s sacrifice of a sheep rather than his son.

Naoot’s trial began in January, after a lawsuit was filed against her by a conservative lawyer. In late 2014, Naoot had written, “Millions of innocent creatures have been driven to the most horrible massacres committed by humans for ten and a half centuries,” Naoot wrote. “A massacre that is repeated every year because of the nightmare of a righteous man about his good son.”

The blasphemy charges leveled against Naoot were subsequently referred to another court - for which she could face up to three years imprisonment.

During the last week of this year, the appointment of a new governor in Alexandria has reportedly led to a policy of killing street dogs after complaints from residents about the dogs’ growing numbers and their barking.

The governor denied these allegations while municipal veterinary employees also denied their involvement claiming that they had stopped the practice of killing street animals with shotguns since the year 2011.

A hashtag emerged on social networking sites denouncing the new governor, “The Governor of Alexandria is a Butcher.”

Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that some animal rights activists even sent photos of these dead dogs to Vladimir Putin’s Facebook page as the Russian president is apparently a major dog-lover.

In March, a rare verdict against an act of animal cruelty was issued, in which the Shobra al-Kheima Criminal Court sentenced four men to three years imprisonment in association with the brutal killing of a street dog.

Another act of animal cruelty — resulting in the deaths of several cats — was not referred to trial. In November, cats that had previously roamed throughout the grounds of Cairo’s Ahly Sporting Club were found dead at the entrance.

The club’s media spokesperson initially denied the incident, claiming that a contracted company had only drugged the cats, but protests by club members and animal rights activists against Al-Ahly Club’s management ensued.

According to media reports, after samples from two of the dead cats were sent for veterinary forensic analysis, the results revealed that poison had been put in their food. An official complaint was filed at the local police station, and the Qasr al-Nil District Prosecutor was notified of the vet’s findings, but the incident has not been referred to trial.

Cat killings, reportedly on a larger scale, have also taken place at Cairo’s Gezira Sporting Club in previous years. Similarly, this has resulted in outrage and protests, but no trials.

However, a cartoon animal – Mickey Mouse — did result in a trial and sentencing this year. In October, a military court sentenced 22-year-old army conscript Amr Nohan to three years imprisonment after he digitally altered an image of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, putting Mickey Mouse ears atop his head, and posted it on his Facebook account.

Nohan was then charged and reportedly found guilty of defaming the president and conspiring to overthrow the ruling regime.

Ahead of anniverary of Jan. 25 Revolt - Police arrest opposition activists

Monday, December 28, 2015

Four members of the April 6 Youth movement were arrested Monday and charged with illegal protests and belonging to a banned organization. An additional two are wanted by prosecutors but by Monday evening had not been arrested.

The charges stem from a December 21 protest in Dokki Square, but lawyers representing the detainees say they were targeted as part of a broader effort to suppress dissent ahead of the fifth anniversary of the January 25 revolution.

Ayman Abdel Meguid, Mohamed Nabil and Mahmoud Hesham were arrested from their homes in the early hours of Monday morning, said Ahmed Othman of the Association for Free Thought and Expression, one of the lawyers involved in the case. The fourth detainee, Sherif al-Rouby was arrested on the street.

All four are being held at the Dokki Police Station and may be referred to Central Security Forces Camp informally known as Camp 10.5, Othman told Mada Masr.

They are scheduled for a hearing on January 10, but Othman said he expects their pretrial detention will be extended until January 25 has passed.

Two others, Islam Abdel Hamid Orabi and Mohammed Samih al-Bayoumi, are wanted by prosecution but have not been arrested.

According to a statement posted on the April 6 Youth Movement Facebook page, the six have been charged with calling for protests, participating in a protest without a permit, and possession of flares. Hesham and Orabi have also been charged with instigating protests.

Under the November 2013 protest law, participants in unsanctioned protests face two to five years in prison and a sentence of up to seven years for possession of explosive devices such as fireworks while protesting.

Othman told Mada Masr prosecutors had not yet produced proof that any of the men charged had attended the December 21 demonstration.

Nabil, Bayoumi, Rouby and Abdel Meguid also face charges of belonging to a banned organization, although the charges do not clarify which organization they allegedly belong to.

In April 2014, a Cairo court banned the activities of the April 6 Youth Movement, one of the groups instrumental in organizing the January 2011 protests that led to the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak. According to the court ruling, the group is responsible for “acts that tarnish Egypt’s image as well as espionage.”

The movement remained defiant following the arrests on Monday.

“We demand the immediate release of our abducted members and we hold the regime responsible for their safety,” the group declared in a statement. “The revolution continues and will not rest and or remain silent.”

*Photo by Virginie Nguyen

Egypt border guards shoot dead naked man crossing Gaza border, said to suffer mental illness

Footage appears to show a man gesticulating at Egyptian forces to stop shooting at man in the sea, who had severe mental-health issues

Saturday - December 26, 2015 

Mary Atkinson 

Footage has emerged appearing to show Egyptian forces shooting dead an unarmed man who had strayed a few metres over its border with Gaza.

Ishaq Khalil Hassan, 26, reportedly had severe mental health issues and was completely naked when he walked through the sea close to the shore, passing under a fence that marks the border between Egypt and Gaza.

The incident took place on Thursday near the Egyptian border town of Rafah.

Hassan, who also suffered from learning difficulties, had previously received treatment at hospitals in Egypt, his family told Al Jazeera Arabic.

Hassan’s nephew said on Saturday that his uncle, from the south of Gaza, had been suffering from a mental-health crisis and decided to attempt to get into Egypt for further treatment, Al Jazeera Arabic reported.

According to Hassan’s relative, he was unable to cross over legally due to the Egypt-Palestine border crossing at Rafah being closed.

Egyptian forces stationed at the border reportedly fired 15 shots at Hassan without prior warning.
The video appears to show a member of the Palestinian border force standing near the sea gesturing at his Egyptian counterparts to stop and gesturing at his head in an attempt to show that Hassan did not pose a threat, after which the shooting continues.

Hassan’s relatives said on Saturday that Egyptian authorities had yet to return his body for burial.

Egyptian officials have yet to comment on the reports.

Egypt: Labor Unrest from North to South

Mada Masr
Labor unrest from north to south

As 2015 draws to a close, worker protests are building momentum across the country

Egypt is World’s 2nd Worst Jailer of Journalists in 2015

Committee to Protect Journalists 

China, Egypt imprison record numbers of journalists

Egypt is second only to China as the world’s worst jailer of journalists in 2015. Worldwide, the number of journalists behind bars for their work declined moderately during the year, but a handful of countries continue to use systematic imprisonment to silence criticism. 

December 15, 2015

Elana Beiser

A record number of journalists are behind bars in China, and the number of journalists jailed in Turkey and Egypt also rose dramatically in 2015, the Committee to Protect Journalists has found. Overall, the number of journalists imprisoned around the world declined modestly from record levels recorded in the past three years.

CPJ identified 199 journalists in prison because of their work in 2015, compared with 221 the previous year.

Iran, Vietnam, and Ethiopia were among those countries holding fewer journalists prisoner, but in all three countries a climate of fear for the media persists, with many of those released continuing to face legal charges or harsh restrictions, including forced exile­.

Perhaps nowhere has the climate for the press deteriorated more rapidly than in Egypt, now the second worst jailer of journalists worldwide. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi continues to use the pretext of national security to clamp down on dissent. Cairo is holding 23 journalists in jail, compared with 12 a year ago.

As recently as 2012, no journalists were in jail for their work in Egypt. Those behind bars include Ismail Alexandrani, a freelancer who focuses on the troubled Sinai Peninsula and who was recently arrested on arrival in Egypt from Germany. (Read detailed accounts of each prisoner here.)

Conditions for the media have also taken a turn for the worse in Turkey, which doubled the number of journalists in jail over the year to 14.

The country released dozens of journalists in 2014 after being the world’s worst jailer for two consecutive years, but in 2015—amid two general elections, further entanglement in the Syrian civil war, and the end of a fragile ceasefire with fighters of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)—fresh arrests make it the fifth worst jailer globally.

Most recently, Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, senior staff members of independent daily Cumhuriyet, were arrested on charges of espionage and aiding an alleged terrorist group after publishing reports that alleged Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) had transferred weapons to Syria under cover of humanitarian aid.

A quarter of those jailed globally are in China, the world’s worst offender for the second year in a row; the 49 journalists in prison there are a record for that country. As President Xi Jinping continues his crackdown on corruption and as the country’s economic growth slows and its markets become more volatile, reporting on financial issues has taken on new sensitivity.

Wang Xiaolu, a reporter for the Beijing-based business magazine Caijing, was arrested on August 25 on suspicion of “colluding with others and fabricating and spreading false information about securities and futures trading” after he reported that a regulator was examining ways for securities companies to withdraw funds from the stock market.

He later appeared on state television saying that he regretted writing the story and pleading for leniency, even as it was unclear whether he had been formally charged with a crime. As CPJ has documented, televised confessions are a tactic repeatedly deployed by Chinese authorities for dealing with journalists who cover sensitive stories.

The lengths to which China is willing to go to silence its critics is demonstrated by at least three people not on CPJ’s imprisoned list: the brothers of Shohret Hoshur. The Washington D.C.-based Uighur journalist for U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports critically on China’s treatment of his ethnic minority.

According to Hoshur and RFA, China, unable to arrest him, has thrown three of his brothers who still live in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region—Tudaxun, Shawket, and Rexim—into jail on anti-state charges in retaliation for Hoshur’s work.

Anti-state charges remain the favored tool for jailing journalists in Iran, where the number of journalists in jail fell in 2015 to 19 from 30 a year earlier, but where the revolving-door policy of allowing some prisoners out on furlough while others are arrested continues.

On November 2, authorities rounded up at least four journalists, including the prominent columnist Issa Saharkhiz, on anti-state accusations.

The Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian, who has been held longer than any U.S. correspondent by any foreign government since CPJ began tracking imprisonments in 1990, is accused of espionage, among other charges. State media has reported that he has been convicted and sentenced, but has not said on which charges or provided any other detail.

The number of prisoners also shrank in Vietnam, but in some cases release from jail comes at a high cost. Ta Phong Tan was freed after serving three years of a 10-year term and was immediately flown to the U.S. In October 2014 Tan's colleague, Nguyen Van Hai, with whom she co-founded the Free Journalists Club in 2007 and who was also imprisoned for his work, was also forced into exile. The country remains among the most censored in the world.

Another of the 10 most censored countries is Ethiopia, which released six bloggers from the Zone 9 collective in 2015, but they report that they face travel restrictions. Meanwhile, Ethiopia’s prisoners still include prominent online columnist Eskinder Nega, who is serving an 18-year term on terrorism charges, and Temesghen Desalegn, an opinion writer who has been denied health care in prison, according to people who have visited.

While anti-state accusations are the most commonly used charge for putting journalists in jail, applied in 55 percent of cases, CPJ found the highest proportion of charges in five years, 25 percent, are retaliatory—arbitrary, trumped-up accusations such as drugs or weapons possession, embezzlement, or assault.

Two such cases are Khadija Ismayilova, sentenced to seven and a half years in Azerbaijan for illegal business, tax evasion, abuse of power, and embezzlement, in retaliation for her investigations of alleged corruption; and Azimjon Askarov, sentenced to life in prison by Kyrgyzstan for the murder of a policeman in retaliation for his exposure of wrongdoing by police and prosecutors.

Other trends and details that emerged in CPJ’s research include:
  • While 28 countries worldwide had journalists in jail, 10 of those were imprisoning a single journalist. The 2015 survey reinforces CPJ’s finding that only a handful of countries engage in systematic imprisonment of journalists.
  • For the second time since CPJ began compiling annual prison surveys in 1990, not a single journalist in the Americas was in jail for work-related reasons on December 1. This also occurred in 2011. Factors include a change in Cuba’s policy of regularly jailing journalists, the effectiveness of the Inter-American human rights system, and campaigns against criminal defamation by CPJ and other groups, although plenty of challenges remain for journalists in the Americas hemisphere.
  • With 17 behind bars, Eritrea remained the worst jailer of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa, and the world’s worst abuser of due process. No Eritrean detainee on CPJ’s census has ever been publicly charged with a crime or brought before a court for trial. Six journalists who worked for the government-controlled station Radio Bana were released early in 2015, the reason for which was not clear.
  • The percentage of journalist prisoners who are freelancers was 28 percent. The percentage has steadily declined since 2011.
  • Globally, 109 of the prisoners worked online, and 83 worked in print.
  • The number of prisoners rose in Bangladesh, Gambia, India, and Saudi Arabia in addition to China, Egypt, and Turkey.
  • Countries that appeared on the 2015 prison census after having no imprisoned journalists in the 2014 survey were Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates.
  • CPJ is aware of at least two cases of journalists in prison that families have asked not to publicize, in hopes that quiet negotiation will win their freedom.
The prison census accounts only for journalists in government custody and does not include those who have disappeared or are held captive by non-state groups. (These cases, such as U.S. freelancer Austin Tice, are classified as “missing” or “abducted.”) For example, CPJ estimates that at least 40 journalists are missing in the Middle East and North Africa, many of whom are believed held by militant groups including Islamic State.

CPJ defines journalists as people who cover the news or comment on public affairs in media, including print, photographs, radio, television, and online. In its annual prison census, CPJ includes only those journalists who it has confirmed have been imprisoned in relation to their work.

CPJ believes that journalists should not be imprisoned for doing their jobs. The organization has sent letters expressing its serious concerns to each country that has imprisoned a journalist. In the past year, CPJ advocacy led to the early release of at least 31 imprisoned journalists worldwide.

CPJ’s list is a snapshot of those incarcerated at 12:01 a.m. on December 1, 2015. It does not include the many journalists imprisoned and released throughout the year; accounts of those cases can be found at

Journalists remain on CPJ’s list until the organization determines with reasonable certainty that they have been released or have died in custody.

*Photo of jailed Egyptian photojournalist 'Shawkan' by Lobna Tarek, courtesy of Associated Press


In Arabic:

الصين ومصر تسجنان أعداداً قياسية من الصحفيين


Rights groups demand immediate release of Journalist Ismail Alexandrani

Mada Masr
Rights groups demand release of journalist Ismail Alexandrani

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Several international and local rights groups issued statements demanding the release of investigative journalist and sociopolitical researcher Ismail Alexandrani, detained for 15 days pending investigation into charges of belonging to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group and disseminating false information.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said his arrest “is the latest attempt by the Egyptian government to silence critical reporting through force and intimidation,” according to its Middle East and North Africa research associate Jason Stern.

CPJ warned that Alexandrani’s detention could be renewed indefinitely.

"We call on authorities to release Alexandrani immediately and drop all charges against him," Stern said.

Alexandrani was taken into custody by National Security forces in Hurghada, where he was arrested at the airport early on Sunday, according to his wife Khadiga Gaafar’s Twitter account. He was then moved to Cairo, where he was interrogated for over eight hours by National Security Prosecution.

The prosecution inspected Alexandrani’s laptop, his cellphone and business cards he kept in his wallet of friends, colleagues, fellow journalists and academics, according to his lawyers.

In another joint statement, several local rights groups condemned Alexandrani’s detention, deeming it a violation, and called for his immediate and unconditional release.

The statement was signed by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, Nazra for Feminist Studies and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, among others.

The groups asserted Alexandrani’s detention is in line with the continued crackdown on journalists and opposition writers, which is “a violation of freedom of thought and expression and a disregard of rights and international standards to protect freedom of the press.” It also violates the Egyptian constitution, the statement added.

They also called for the release of all prisoners of conscience and the opening up of political space for expression, urging “abandoning the gagging policy which only pushed us further into a dark tunnel.”

Alexandrani was held for over 10 hours at Hurghada airport on Sunday and was not allowed to see a lawyer until Tuesday. Human Rights Watch deemed this a violation of Egyptian law, which requires security officials to inform detainees of the reasons behind their detention and allow them to contact a lawyer.

“The arrest of Ismail Alexandrani is deeply disturbing and fits a pattern of Egyptian security agencies arresting people whose writings don’t conform to official views,” Joe Stork, HRW deputy Middle East director, stated.

“If Alexandrani had any arrest warrant or official charges, he should have been informed immediately,” Stork added. “What happened to him is clear intimidation and has little to do with the rule of law.”

Alexandrani’s journalistic work is often critical of government policies. Recent articles he published in Beirut-based newspapers As-Safir Arabic and Al-Modon claimed the new Suez Canal passageway is a delusion, criticized the state’s war on Sinai-based militants and used local sources to report details on the military’s battle with militants in the Western Desert.

All the statements by human rights organizations also referred to the three-day detention of Mada Masr contributor Hossam Bahgat last month, who was held on charges of publishing false news that harms national interests and disseminating information that disturbs the public peace.

Bahgat was released from military intelligence after he signed a document pledging to abide by legal and security procedures when publishing material pertaining to the Armed Forces.