Egyptian journalist Mohamed Mounir died in Cairo on July 13 after he had contracted COVID-19 during an unnecessary pretrial detention, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Mounir, age 65, had been arrested at his home on June 15 for allegedly joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media. He was transferred to the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP), and ordered to be imprisoned for 15 days pending an investigation.

Ignoring various legal claims that during the coronavirus pandemic Mounir should be released due to his age and illnesses, including diabetes, the SSSP decided on June 27 to renew Mounir’s detention for a further 15 days.

On July 1, Mounir’s health worsened, and he was transferred to Tora Liman Hospital for a medical examination. He was released unconditionally the next day on July 2.

On July 4, Mounir posted a video from home calling for help. On July 7, Mounir posted a second video in which he was clearly struggling to breathe and asking the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate to help get him to a hospital.

Mounir was transferred to Agouza Hospital in Giza the next day, but he died five days later of complications from COVID-19, according to a report and Facebook post by Al-Jazeera.

Mounir had criticized the Egyptian government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mounir had criticized the Egyptian government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. He had also appeared in a May 26 interview and written a June 14 column on Al-Jazeera. The “evidence” cited in the case against him was his social media posts.

Mohamed Mounir

Journalist Mohamed Mounir surrounded by security forces in Cairo during the ‘January Revolution’ that started in January 25, 2011, in Egypt (Photo via Al Jazeera Balkans)

Journalist Abu Al-Maati Al-Sindoubi, one of Mounir’s colleagues, said in an interview with Al-Jazeera that Mounir was a “martyr of the freedom of the press in Egypt.”

Egyptian journalists claim that Mounir, like Jamal Khashoggi, was deliberately assassinated by the authorities—not with a bone saw this time, but by intentionally infecting him with the coronavirus, which he contracted during detention in Cairo’s Tora Prison.

Egyptian journalist Wael Kandil stated that Mounir’s transfer to that hospital was a death sentence and a “full-fledged assassination,” describing it as “murder by coronavirus.” Because Tora Liman Hospital treats prisoners who are infected with coronavirus, Kandil asserted that by admitting Mounir there it was inevitable he would contract the virus.

Egypt is well known for having harshly cracked down on local journalists in recent years, a phenomenon exacerbated by the pandemic.

Egypt is well known for having harshly cracked down on local journalists in recent years, a phenomenon exacerbated by the pandemic. According to Sahar Khamis, Professor of Communications at Maryland University, “While the act of imprisoning a journalist for expressing his views is not in itself something new . . . , the conditions surrounding this particular incident were, indeed, different.”

With the recent surge in coronavirus cases, she told Inside Arabia, “imprisoning a 65-year-old man who suffers chronic medical conditions, including hypertension, diabetes, and heart complications, in a crowded prison, [was] the equivalent of a death sentence.”

The CPJ, as part of its #FreeThePress campaign, has called upon world leaders to immediately release all imprisoned journalists in light of the dire threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic. More than a dozen journalists are being held in Tora prison in southern Cairo, with at least seven having been detained since March.

“We are extremely disturbed by journalist Mohamed Mounir’s death . . . after he spent more than two weeks unnecessarily held in pretrial detention at Cairo’s notorious Tora Prison,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour in a July 13 statement.

Mansour has called for Egyptian authorities to release all journalists detained because of their work. “Even brief detentions amid the COVID-19 pandemic can mean a death sentence,” he said.

“Even brief detentions amid the COVID-19 pandemic can mean a death sentence.”

Indeed, recognizing the danger of incarceration during a pandemic, many journalists and human rights activists, both inside and outside Egypt, called in vain for Mounir’s release. They are demanding that the Egyptian regime be held to account for his death and are continuing to push for the release of all journalists and political prisoners “to save their lives,” according to Professor Khamis.

“Mounir’s tragic death should be a loud alarm call for those who are still behind bars, under these dire circumstances,” she said.

 

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