Egypt’s prosecutor-general has ordered the release of a journalist days after she was arrested in the country’s south, amid outcry from international press freedom advocates.
Basma Mostafa, a freelance journalist, was brought before prosecutors on Sunday.
Prosecutors had accused her of “using her personal social media account to publish and promote false news”.
She was arrested the day before while attempting to report on the alleged police killing of a man in the wake of small-scale demonstrations last month near the southern city of Luxor, according to the Al-Manassa news website, where she is a regular contributor.
“The prosecutor-general has ordered the release of the defendant Basma Mostafa after she was questioned on the charges laid against her,” the prosecution said in a statement overnight on Monday, adding that the investigation would continue.
On Monday, New York-based press freedom watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said her arrest was “clear retaliation for covering news that the Egyptian government wants to suppress”.
The International Press Institute (IPI) in Vienna called her detention “outrageous” and accused the international community of turning “a blind eye to the gross press freedom and human rights violations in Egypt”.
Both organisations identified Mostafa as the wife of Karim Abdelrady, whom the IPI described as a “human rights lawyer … who represents several detained journalists and human rights defenders in Egypt”.
Last month, dozens of Egyptians took to the streets in several villages across the country, according to videos shared widely on social media, especially by sympathisers of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood movement.
The demonstrations coincided with mounting anger, particularly in rural and low-income areas, over sweeping government campaigns against illegal construction, which have forced people to pay fines to legalise homeownership.
Egypt is the third-worst jailer of journalists globally behind China and Turkey, according to a 2019 CPJ report.
Egypt has increasingly targeted journalists in a continuing crackdown on dissent since the 2013 military overthrow of the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi.
The IPI said Egypt has waged an “aggressive campaign” against the independent media, with more than 60 journalists behind bars in the country.
Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Hussein has been imprisoned for 1,383 days without charge despite repeated calls for an end to his “arbitrary detention”.
Hussein was arrested in December 2016 while on a personal visit to see his family, and was accused of “incitement against state institutions and broadcasting false news with the aim of spreading chaos” – allegations he and the Al Jazeera Media Network deny.
In a report in May, Amnesty International said journalism has effectively become a crime over the past four years in Egypt, as authorities clamp down on media outlets and muzzle dissent.
The global rights watchdog said it had documented dozens of cases of journalists arrested in the government’s escalating crackdown on press freedom, many charged with “spreading false news” or “misusing social media” under a broad 2015 counterterrorism law that has expanded the definition of terror to include all kinds of dissent.