Egypt renews pre-trial detention of journalist Tawfik Ghanem, held for over two years
An Egyptian judge has renewed the pre-trial detention of retired 69-year-old journalist Tawfik Ghanem, held in violation of the law for over two years in a country once ranked as the world's third-worst jailer of journalists.
Ghanem, who served as the regional bureau chief of the Turkish Anadolu news agency before he retired in 2015, has faced terrorism-related charges including “the dissemination of false news” and “the misuse of social media tools,” the same set of charges known for being used by the Egyptian authorities against regime critics and journalists.
The senior journalist was reportedly subjected to enforced disappearance on 26 May 2021 for five days before he appeared at the supreme state prosecution’s office and was interrogated about his previous work at Anadolu at a time when Egypt and Turkey had been at loggerheads.
Ghanem’s confinement has exceeded the two-year limit of pre-trial detention stipulated by Egyptian law, and he has reportedly suffered medical neglect behind bars.
“About 20 Egyptian journalists are currently behind bars, 12 of them held without trial, including Ghanem, who has been undergoing severe health-related problems and denied access to proper healthcare at an equipped hospital as per the recommendation of the prison doctor,” a former board member at the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate told The New Arab.
“The current head of the syndicate [independent journalist Khaled El-Balshy] has been communicating with the authorities to secure the release of the detainees since he took office earlier last year,” the former board member added on condition of anonymity fearing for their safety.
Over the past decade, Egypt's prolific jailing of activists and journalists has been regularly condemned by human rights and press freedom advocates.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has run the country with an iron fist ever since seizing power in a 2013 coup. Media freedom and civil rights have sharply deteriorated since then.
In April last year, the Egyptian security authorities listed 33 journalists on a new "terrorism" watch list among 82 people including activists, politicians, and human rights defenders, all living in self-exile outside the country.
Over 500 local and international websites of organisations and news outlets, including Human Rights Watch, Al Jazeera, and Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, the sister company of The New Arab, have been blocked in the country.
Egypt and Turkey had been in a diplomatic spat which began after late President Mohammed Morsi was ousted in a military coup in 2013, with Turkish President Erdogan vocally speaking out against that year's Rabaa Square massacre and calling Sisi a tyrant.
Several Egyptian political activists and journalists have since sought refuge in Turkey. It was not until 2022 that both countries restored diplomatic ties.