Confusion about fate of detained Egyptian journalist Ismail Alexandrani

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the Egyptian authorities to quickly clarify the status of Ismail Alexandrani, an investigative journalist and researcher specializing in the Sinai, after a military spokesman denied that a Cairo military court sentenced him in his absence to ten years in prison on 22 May. RSF reiterates its call for him to be released without delay.

Ismail Alexandrani, who learned about the reported sentence from his wife when she visited him in prison on 23 May, did not attend the 22 May hearing at which, according to certain sources, a total of 20 defendants were convicted (18 of them in absentia) of divulging secrets involving national security in the Sinai Peninsula and belonging to a banned group (the Muslim Brotherhood).

However, when reached by RSF on 22 May, army spokesman Tamer al Refai was emphatic that Alexandrani had not been convicted and that his case was still being investigated.

The day after the reported sentence, prison authorities had not been notified of any change in the status of Alexandrani, who continues to be in provisional detention, as he has since 29 November 2015, when he was arrested on landing at the Red Sea city of Hurghada’s airport.

“Has Ismail Alexandrani been convicted without even attending his trial or is he just the victim of a strange judicial mix-up?” said Sophie Anmuth, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “The confusion and uncertainty is yet another ordeal for this journalist, who has already spent nearly two and a half years in provisional detention just for doing his job to research and share information. Journalists and civilians in general should not be judged in military courts. We call on the Egyptian authorities to clarify his status and free him without delay.”

After Alexandrani’s provisional detention exceeded Egypt’s maximum legal limit of two years last December, his case was transferred to the military justice system.

Alexandrani’s real name is Ismail Al Sayed Mohamed Omar Toufic. His choice of pseudonym alludes to his birthplace, the city of Alexandria. As Ismail Alexandrani, he is well known as a researcher and journalist who has specialized in writing about Jihadi groups in the North Sinai. He is also known as a critic of the government and the army’s role in politics.

A nominee for the RSF’s Press Freedom Prize in 2016, he is a research fellow at the Arab Reform Initiative in Paris and was a visiting fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington. He has reported for MadaMasr, Safir Arabi, Al Jazeera English, the Forum for Arab and International Relations and the French magazine Orient XXI.

At least 34 journalists are currently detained in connection with their work in Egypt, which is ranked 161st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.