By AYA BATRAWY
The military trial of an Egyptian journalist accused of spreading false information about the army’s counterinsurgency operations in the volatile Sinai Peninsula briefly opened behind closed doors on Sunday, only to be postponed for a few days for lawyers to review his case, a security official said.
The detention and trial of freelancer Ahmed Abu-Draa, a resident of Sinai, by military tribunal has caused an outcry among journalists in Egypt, which relies on local reporters to send news from the lawless northern Sinai.
Dozens of journalists protested Abu-Draa’s detention and trial outside the courtroom where he is being tried in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia. Reporters Without Borders, the press watchdog, has called for his immediate release.
The court adjourned the session until Wednesday, the official who attended the session said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
Abu-Draa’s detention comes as authorities extended emergency laws granting security forces greater powers to arrest citizens and censor the press following a sharp rise in violence since last month. Local and international rights groups have called on Egyptian authorities to halt the harassment of journalists seeking to cover the ongoing political crisis in the country.
The Sinai-based journalist was detained 11 days ago after he wrote on Facebook that airstrikes ostensibly targeting militants had hit civilian areas and accused military officials of misinforming the public. Abu-Draa questioned the military’s statements about its operations against militant groups in Sinai.
Few journalists have direct access to what is happening in Sinai because of security restrictions and concerns, forcing many to rely on statements by officials. Abu-Draa, an award-winning reporter who has done investigation stories in Sinai, works for several Egyptian and foreign newspapers and television channels.
Egyptian military spokesman Col. Ahmed Ali told reporters Sunday that Abu-Draa’s fate is now in the hands of the military court, but that spreading false information as part of an “information war” is a national security threat. The colonel said Abu-Draa is accused of lying about the army attacking mosques and relocating families in Sinai, spreading false reports locally and internationally about what is happening in Sinai and of being in a military-restricted area.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said in a recent statement that through a series of arrests, prosecutions, assaults and censorship, the Egyptian government has made it clear that journalists operate at their own risk if they deviate from the official narrative.
Five journalists have been killed since the military ousted President Mohammed Morsi from office July 3 after nationwide protests against him. Reporters Without Borders says another 80 have been arbitrarily detained_ most from outlets that authorities accuse of being pro-Islamist or sympathetic to Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group.