SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: November 29, 2015

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Victim Unaffiliated

Region & Country:Northern Africa | Egypt

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On November 29, 2015, researcher and journalist Ismail Alexandrani was detained by Egyptian authorities, interrogated, and charged with crimes relating to publishing false and/or secret information and belonging to a banned organization.

Alexandrani, a researcher, former fellow with the Wilson Center, and an independent journalist, has publicly criticized Egypt’s government, including its counter-terrorism policies in the Sinai. At the time he was detained, Mr. Alexandrani was in Egypt’s Hurghada Airport, returning from a trip to Berlin. Security agents reportedly took him into custody, confiscated his passport, and questioned him for several hours, before transferring him to a Homeland Security facility in Cairo.  On the morning of December 1, he was reportedly brought before the State Security Prosecution in Cairo, where he was interrogated for more than eight hours with his attorney present.

After his interrogation, prosecutors reportedly ordered Mr. Alexandrani into pre-trial detention for 15 days, pending an investigation.  He was later charged with belonging to a terrorist organization and spreading false information liable to alarm people, disturb public security, and damage public interests.  Alexandrani denies all the charges against him.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention and prosecution of a researcher, apparently as a result of nonviolent expression and association – conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. State officials have a responsibility not to interfere with the rights to freedom of expression and association, so long as such rights are exercised peacefully and responsibly. Imprisonment and prosecution aimed at limiting expression and association undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally. State officials have an obligation to comply with internationally recognized standards of free expression and freedom of association, due process and fair trial.


On December 10, 2015, Mr. Alexandrani’s detention was reportedly extended 15 days; it was extended again, for an additional 15 days, on December 27, 2015, pending a January 15, 2016 court appearance. In the months that followed, his detention was extended repeatedly, until November 20, 2016 when a Cairo criminal court ordered Mr. Alexandrani’s release. The prosecution appealed that order however, which the court accepted two days later, again extending Mr. Alexandrani’s detention by another 45 days.

On May 22, 2018, after further extensions of Mr. Alexandrani’s detention, it was reported that the North Cairo Military Criminal Court had sentenced Mr. Alexandrani to 10 years in prison.  After the trial, Mr. Alexandrani’s lawyer noted that the government had not presented evidence relating to his membership in a banned organization, or his alleged publication of secret information.