Egypt must release journalist charged with drug possession, says rights group

Egyptian authorities should immediately release Youssef Shaaban, a reporter for the online newspaper Al-Badil arrested on Friday while covering street protests in Alexandria, and drop criminal charges against him, an international press watchdog said Tuesday.

Shaaban is charged with possession of drugs, according to his lawyer Ahmed Mamdouh.

The journalist was detained while covering a protest over a new construction project in the Abu Suleiman Cairo. neighborhood. Local residents say the construction threatens the integrity of surrounding buildings.  

"The criminal charges against Youssef Shaaban appear to be a pretext to stop him from covering street protests or from writing critically about the authorities," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Middle East and North Africa Program coordinator.

"We call on the Egyptian authorities to release him immediately and drop these charges."

The New York-based group, in a report on the arrest, quoted a friend of Shaaban who said the accused has been detained several times this year–in April, May, and September–while covering street protests demanding reform and opposing the presidential bid of Gamal Mubarak, the son of President Hosni Mubarak.

According to the CPJ’s statement, Mamdouh said Shaaban was interrogated without an attorney present.

The lawyer said he believes Shaaban's arrest is due to a recent article he wrote exposing police brutality and cases of security forces confiscating cell phones and personal belongings from protesters.

“Leveling criminal drug-related charges against a journalist sets a dangerous precedent and is meant to intimidate journalists," Mamdouh said. "The government has used such charges against the political opposition before."

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