Egypt has a record-high number of journalists who are imprisoned in the country, a press watchdog said Thursday, condemning the “unprecedented” danger that journalists working in Egypt face.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in its report, found that at least 18 Egyptian journalists were being held for reasons mostly related to their reporting, and added that the number is the highest since the organization began keeping records on imprisoned journalists in 1990.
Khaled al-Balshy, head of a local committee on press freedom, told Reuters that the number was significantly higher, and put it at over 30. "We are in the worst climate for journalism in Egypt's history," he reportedly said.
The CPJ report also deplored the conditions in which the journalists were held.
“The arrests of journalists in Egypt are often violent and involve beatings, abuse, and raids of their homes and confiscation of their property ... prison cells are often unclean and overcrowded. In letters from prison, some journalists wrote that they often do not see sunlight for weeks; others described the torture of prisoners, including the use of electric shocks,” it said.
Most of the imprisoned journalists were accused by the military government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of belonging to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the government.
The current government says the Muslim Brotherhood, which was previously in power under the government of Mohammad Morsi before he was deposed in 2011, is a threat to national safety. It has sentenced hundreds of people accused of being members of the group, including its leader, to death, a move that has been condemned by international rights groups and opposition activists.
Six of the imprisoned journalists documented in the CPJ report were sentenced to life in prison, a charge that was handed out at a mass trial of 51 defendants.
Cairo denied the CPJ’s allegations that the arrests were politically motivated. "These numbers are not accurate and this report is not objective," an unnamed government source told Reuters.
However, the detailed description of the cases in the report alleged that most of them were jailed for covering protests, airing anti-government views or reporting on abuses against people accused of being affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The issue of press rights in Egypt has drawn international condemnation after the country banned or forced the closure of several outlets including Al Jazeera and the Turkish agency Anadolu.
Also on Thursday, the retrial of two Al Jazeera journalists -- accused of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood -- was set to begin. The journalists and Al Jazeera have denied any affiliation with the group. Another Al Jazeera journalist was briefly detained in Germany on an Egyptian warrant. He was released Monday without being charged and accused Germany of being manipulated by Egypt.