Egypt Cracks Down on Media

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt deported a French journalist without explanation on Wednesday, the reporter and his newspaper said, the latest move in an ongoing crackdown on freedom of expression and the media.

The reporter, Remy Pigaglio, who worked for several publications, including Catholic daily La Croix, was returning from vacation in France and prevented from entering Egypt on Tuesday. Pigaglio said he has a residency work permit and a press card, and was detained for 30 hours at the airport before being sent back to Paris.

Authorities twice inspected photos on Pigaglio's mobile phone, confiscated his passport, and barred him from speaking with embassy officials and family until Tuesday evening, his newspaper said. He was held overnight in a cell at the airport.

La Croix also said the French Embassy tried to intervene on his behalf but did not manage to prevent the deportation.

"Nothing was confiscated from me and I wasn't treated badly," Pigaglio told the paper. "I was not interrogated, and I never knew, and still do not know, why this decision was made to ban me from entering the territory."

French journalists in Egypt demanded an explanation, saying in a note that the deportation was a sign of "authorities' growing repression of Egyptian and foreign media: surveillance, arrest, expulsion and detention."

Journalists have been regularly detained, jailed, and prosecuted under the rule of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who led a military overthrow of his elected but divisive Islamist predecessor in 2013, and foreigners from a variety of fields have been denied entry without explanation or expelled.

Egypt was ranked 158 out of 180 countries in the 2015 Press Freedom Index, according to Reporters Without Borders, a freedom of expression advocacy group. In December, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Egypt was second only to China as the world's worst jailer of journalists in 2015.

Earlier this month, a new draft bill was up in parliament on regulating the media.

Journalists say it would likely bring the demise of dozens of low-budget, online media outlets serving as refuge for young writers and liberal activists escaping government restrictions on freedom of expression. Awaiting approval by a parliament dominated by el-Sissi loyalists, lawmakers are also set to approve clauses that would ban all live video transmissions without permits. Insiders expect such permits will be denied to non-state media.

European Union member states broadly back el-Sissi and continue to sell Egypt sophisticated weaponry under the rationale that the country needs the firepower to fight a growing insurgency in a restive corner of the Sinai Peninsula, and remains a bulwark of stability in a volatile Middle East.

But the harsh crackdown on any form of critique has left thousands jailed and fanned doubts over el-Sissi's leadership, with many states voicing concerns.

Close partner Italy has been particularly critical after an Italian doctoral student was found tortured to death after disappearing on Jan. 25, a day that saw a massive police presence in Cairo, prompting accusations that Egypt's security services were involved.

Italy has withdrawn its ambassador to Cairo over the case of Giulio Regeni, and cooperation on official levels has been stymied during the investigation, with Italian officials saying Cairo has been uncooperative. Egypt denies that its security services were involved in Regeni's killing.

(KA)