BEIRUT

Middle East

Egypt military court starts trial of freelance journalist

An Egyptian child walks in front of the wreckage of a burnt down car, the day after an attack by Egyptian Army in a village on the outskirt of the Northern Sinai town of Sheik Zuweid on September 10, 2013 in Egypt. AFP PHOTO/MOHAMED EL-SHAHED

CAIRO: The military trial of an Egyptian journalist accused of spreading false information about the army’s counterinsurgency operations in the volatile Sinai Peninsula briefly began behind closed doors 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 Ahmad 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 was 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 militants 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. Ahmad Ali told reporters Sunday that Abu-Draa’s fate was now in the hands of the court, but that spreading false information as part of an “information war” was a national security threat.

The colonel said Abu-Draa was accused of lying about the army attacking mosques and relocating families, spreading false reports locally and internationally about what was happening in Sinai.

 

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