On September 28, 2021, the New Cairo Court ordered the detention of Dr. Ayman Mansour Nada, a renowned journalism professor and head of the Radio and Television Department at Cairo University, apparently for his public criticism of some of Egypt’s media personalities and officials, the country’s general media landscape, and Cairo University administration. Nada was held for nearly two months before being released on November 17, 2021, although the investigations and legal proceedings against him continue.
Since early 2021, Nada has published a number of articles on his Facebook page criticizing Egyptian media, alleging that the industry lacks professionalism and fails to make a real impact on public opinion. In the articles, he also scrutinized several major figures in Egyptian media, including TV anchor Ahmed Moussa – who Middle East Eye labeled as one of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s “most well-known mouthpieces” – and Lieutenant-Colonel Ahmed Shaaban, an aide to Egypt’s head of intelligence who is known as “Egypt’s editor in chief.” Nada additionally wrote articles about and filed a complaint with the public prosecutor against Cairo University President Mohamed Othman Elkhosht, accusing him of corruption and alleging that Elkhosht had threatened him in an effort to silence his critique of the media. In March 2021 – immediately after the head of the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, a state-appointed body, filed a complaint against Nada with the public prosecutor for insulting members of the Council – he was suspended from his position at Cairo University in a move described by the Middle East Monitor as “designed to appease the media who were angered by his criticism.” Although Nada was supposed to return to work at the end of June, this reportedly did not happen.
On September 28, a judge in the New Cairo Court issued an order to detain Nada for 15 days pending an investigation into charges of defamation and slander. According to his family, Nada had been arrested and held in custody at Awal El-Tagamo police station in Cairo for several days prior to the decision for charges of “intimidating and disrupting state institutions.” It appears he is now facing three cases: Cases No. 22 and No. 23 of 2021 for his criticism of Elkhosht and other Cairo University officials and Case No. 9840 of 2021 for his criticism of Egyptian media personalities and authorities. In the latter case, the public prosecution is demanding that Nada be sentenced in accordance with Articles (171), (184), (185), (188), (302), (303), (306), and (308) of the Egyptian Penal Code – which relate to insulting public officials and institutions, inciting crimes, and spreading false information – and Article (27) of the Information Technology Crimes Law No. 175 of 2018, which prohibits the use of an internet account for the facilitation or commission of a crime. If convicted under the Information Technology Crimes Law, Nada will be facing at least two years of imprisonment and a fine between 100,000 and 300,000 pounds (roughly $6,370-$19,100 USD); the Egyptian Penal Code articles carry the threat of additional years in prison and tens of thousands of pounds in fines.
The court decided to renew Nada’s detention on both October 12 and 26. Then, on November 17, the court released him from detention under guarantee of his place of residence as the case investigations continue.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by the arbitrary detention and prosecution of a scholar for the nonviolent exercise of academic freedom and freedom of expression – conduct that is protected by international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a party. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from taking actions to restrict or retaliate against such conduct, so long as it is nonviolent and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, arbitrary detention and prosecution intended to restrict or otherwise deter the nonviolent expressive activity of scholars undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.