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Al-Jazeera: Cairo journalist released on bail

Hussein Abdel Ghani
Al-Jazeera's Cairo bureau chief, Hussein Abdel Ghani, was detained for his reporting on the Dahab, Egypt, bombings earlier this week.AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Al-Jazeera’s Cairo bureau chief was released on $1,745 bail Thursday and charged with propagating lies with his reporting on this week’s Sinai resort bombings, the pan-Arab satellite channel reported.

Hussein Abdel Ghani was detained Wednesday evening in Dahab, the Sinai resort struck by three bombs Monday that killed 21 people and wounded 85 more.

He was transported to the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis, questioned by state security prosecutors and accused of “propagating false news that can disturb national security and cause chaos,” Al-Jazeera said.

“I’m fine, but I have had hardly any sleep for the past 40 hours,” Abdel Ghani told viewers in a phone interview with the Al-Jazeera anchorwoman in Qatar.

The bureau chief was completing the paperwork for his release at the prosecutor’s offices, colleague Sameer Omar told The Associated Press.

If convicted, Abdel Ghani could face three to five years in prison.

Al-Jazeera defends journalist
The case is “a flagrant violation of freedom of opinion in Egypt and an insult to a journalist whose only fault was trying to ensure the free flow of information,” Al-Jazeera said.

The Dahab attacks were the third strike on Sinai tourist resorts in the past two years. Eager to avoid damage to Sinai’s vital tourist trade if al-Qaida is linked to the bombings, Egyptian authorities have blamed Bedouin tribesmen for past attacks. But some outside intelligence officials say groups linked to Osama bin Laden’s terror network are more likely suspects.

Earlier Thursday, Abdel Ghani told Al-Jazeera in a call from his cell phone that he had been bundled into a van and driven to Cairo in what he called a “police kidnapping operation.”

State security officials declined to comment on Abdel Ghani’s detention, but it was confirmed by the semiofficial Middle East News Agency and a legislator for the ruling National Democratic Party, Mohammed Ragab.

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, the country’s most prominent rights group, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders and several other rights groups condemned Abdel Ghani’s arrest and called for his release.

Before the release was announced, colleague Omar told viewers that Abdel Ghani was accused of “propagating false news that can disturb national security and cause chaos.”

Accused of broadcasting old footage
In a live interview with Al-Jazeera’s anchorman in Doha, Qatar, legislator Ragab accused Abdel Ghani of broadcasting old footage of previous terrorist attacks in Sinai, showing Israeli ambulances picking up casualties in the 2004 Taba attack, and presenting it as fresh material.

The anchorman told Ragab that the footage broadcast Monday was new and had been taken on the Israeli side of the Sinai border, and that similar shots were aired on other channels, including Egyptian state TV.

Ragab accused Abdel Ghani of reporting falsely that other explosions occurred Wednesday in Belbis. The report, which was denied by the Interior Ministry, was picked up by other news outlets.

The anchorman said Al-Jazeera was not the only channel to broadcast the report and that the channel had carried the Interior Ministry’s denial.

Abdel Ghani is a well-known face on Al-Jazeera, having reported from Cairo since the channel began in 1997. Previously he worked for the British Broadcasting Corp.’s Arabic service.

An Egyptian citizen, Abdel Ghani is in his forties and married with four children.

Al-Jazeera is watched by millions of Arab viewers, but has been accused of bias by Washington and has had its reporters barred by Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.