Egyptian authorities threatened a British journalist with a military trial and expelled her from the country with no stated cause, in advance of the country’s upcoming presidential election.
Bel Trew, a journalist with the Times, was arrested on 20 February while reporting in Shubra, a working-class neighbourhood of Cairo, and taken to a police station. Hours later, she was driven to Cairo international airport and forced to board a flight for London.
In an account published on Saturday by the Times, Trew wrote: “The charges were never revealed to me. [But] after seven hours of detention, I was threatened with a military trial, a legal process often used against terrorism suspects or dissidents.”
“Less than 24 hours after I was first detained, I was marched on to a plane with nothing but the clothes I was standing up in. The choice before me – stay for a military trial or leave – was no kind of choice,” she wrote.
The arrest and deportation of a foreign journalist is the latest incident in an already unprecedented crackdown on press freedom in Egypt.
Foreign media workers have been subject to imprisonment or arrest in the past, but Trew’s expulsion has raised concerns about whether journalists are safe to report in Egypt ahead of the country’s upcoming presidential election on 26 March.
In a statement, the Times said that it had withheld news of Trew’s deportation while investigating if she could return to the country.
“The circumstances of her detention and the threats made against her were sufficiently outlandish to suggest that a mistake had been made, based on a misunderstanding. We have since been trying to ensure her safe return to Cairo, in time to cover the presidential election. It is now clear that the authorities have no intention of allowing her to return,” the newspaper said.
“As far as the Cairo authorities are concerned, I am on a list of ‘undesirable people’ and if I attempt to return I will be re-arrested,” wrote Trew.
A spokeswoman for the British Embassy in Cairo said that the motivation for Trew’s expulsion was still unknown.
“We have provided support and raised our concerns at the highest levels. The foreign secretary has raised it directly with the Egyptian foreign minister. The Egyptian authorities have not shared any evidence of wrongdoing. We will continue to press them on this case,” she said.
The Egyptian government did not respond to requests for comment.
Trew, 33, moved to Cairo shortly before the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
Since the current president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi came to power in a 2013 military coup, the climate for Egyptian and foreign media has grown increasingly repressive.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 20 Egyptian journalists are behind bars as of December last year.
Egypt is described as one of “the world’s biggest prisons for journalists”, by the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders, ranking 161 out of a total of 180 countries on their annual World Press Freedom Index.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010