Egypt 'disappeared' two journalists, says press freedom group

Photojournalist Hamdi al-Zaeem and online editor Ahmed Khalifa went missing on Jan 4 and 6 respectively.

CAIRO (AFP) - Press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on Egypt to release two journalists who disappeared about two weeks ago on charges including "spreading false news".

Photojournalist Hamdi al-Zaeem and online editor Ahmed Khalifa went missing on Jan 4 and 6 respectively after security forces raided their homes.

Both appeared last week before a state security court, also accused of "belonging to a terror group".

"These two enforced disappearances in the space of a few days show the degree to which the treatment of journalists violates international law," said Ms Sabrina Bennoui, head of the RSF Middle East desk said on Thursday (Jan 21). "In addition to detaining journalists, the authorities no longer even trouble to inform their families or tell them why they have been detained."

The government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former general who led the 2013 overthrow of former president Mohamed Morsi, has launched an ongoing crackdown aimed at quashing dissent.

With 30 jailed journalists, Egypt ranks 166th out of 180 countries on RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

Zaeem was previously jailed on similar charges in 2016 and released in 2018. A diabetic, he had shown Covid-19 symptoms but not been tested while he was held in a Cairo hospital isolation unit, said RSF.

Khalifa, a social affairs editor at news site Masr 360 who had recently covered labour protests, appeared on Jan 6 at national security headquarters in Fayoum, 100km south of Cairo.

Lawyers and relatives said they did not know where he was until he showed up in the same court as Zaeem on Jan 19.

The two journalists are now believed to be held in Cairo's notorious Tora prison, Mr Gamal Eid, head of local rights group Arab Network for Human Rights Information, told AFP.

The maximum security prison, which rights groups say is overcrowded and unsanitary, houses many of Egypt's high-profile dissidents.

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