Egypt arrested a prominent journalist and human rights advocate on Sunday on charges that international human rights watchdogs groups are calling spurious and politically motivated.
Hossam Bahgat — an investigative journalist with Mada Masr and founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) — was summoned by military intelligence on Sunday.
He has yet to emerge from detention, and his defense team said he will face charges of "publishing false information."
The charges stem from a story Bhagat wrote last October about 26 officers who had been quietly arrested and convicted by a military court of plotting a coup.
Amnesty International said Bahgat's arrest was a clear signal of the determination of Egyptian authorities "to continue with their ferocious onslaught against independent journalism and civil society."
The arrest comes as President Sisi is cementing ties with the US and its allies. Last week, the US announced it would resume a long stalled joint-tank building program to refresh Egypt's supply of M1A1 Abrams. And last weekend, Sisi traveled to the UK where he met one-on-one with British Prime Minster David Cameron.
Human rights groups also accused Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who as military chief deposed a democratically elected Islamist president in 2013, of exploiting security threats to roll back political freedoms won in the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
"This is a bellwether moment for Egypt," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Continuing to hold Hossam Bahgat or putting him on trial would be a definitive signal that al-Sisi and his government have no interest in rolling back the repression of the past two years."
"The arrest of Hossam Bahgat today is yet another nail in the coffin for freedom of expression in Egypt," said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.
Bahgat has been one of Egypt's leading voices on human rights for over a decade. In 2002, he founded the EIPR, one of Egypt's most outspoken independent human rights organization.
More recently, he has published a series of searing investigations for Mada Masr, including an expose revealing massive corruption within the family of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and a series of pieces exposing the links between Egyptian presidential candidates and Saudi Arabia.
Egypt's constitution, approved by referendum in January 2014, states that no civilian can be tried in military court except for "crimes that constitute a direct assault" against military forces or property, but it includes documents and military secrets in that definition.
Baghat will be tried by a military court, a move human rights groups are calling unfair, but predictable.
"Egyptian media outlets and human rights groups have reported that at least 3,700 civilians have been charged in military courts," Human Rights Watch said in a statement. "No civilian should face military prosecution, and Bahgat is being investigated solely for his work as a journalist... prosecutors should drop the charges and release him immediately."
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