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Egypt arrests 11 accused of 'fabricating' content for Al Jazeera

Ministry of Interior claims information for documentary on Egypt's Sinai region was contrived in exchange for money
Headquarters of Al Jazeera Media Network in Qatari capital Doha last year (AFP/File photo)

Egyptian security forces arrested almost a dozen people on accusations of fabricating content for the Al Jazeera news network, the interior ministry said in a statement. 

The ministry said on Friday that the 11 individuals arrested were suspected of collaborating with members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group to create content for Al Jazeera. 

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The content in question included a documentary on Egypt's troubled North Sinai region. The ministry alleged that information in the documentary was fabricated in exchange for large sums of money.

In a statement, the ministry accused those arrested of trying to "undermine national security and stability by producing fabricated media reports... on the country's internal situation to spread rumours."

The investigations had been handed over to the Supreme State Security Prosecution, the ministry added.

It was not immediately clear if the 11 people arrested were employees of the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera network. Al Jazeera had not released a statement on the arrests at the time of this article's publication. 

Security forces have been battling a long-running Islamist insurgency in North Sinai, spearheaded by a local affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) group.

Northern Sinai is largely closed off to the media, except for rare visits supervised by the Egyptian military. 

Caught in a bitter political rift

Al Jazeera has in recent years been involved in a bitter political rift between Cairo and Doha, since the 2013 military ousting of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who hailed from the Brotherhood and was backed by Qatar. 

The Egyptian government sees the network as a mouthpiece for the Brotherhood. Al Jazeera's website has been blocked in Egypt since 2017 and is accessible only via VPNs. 

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In December 2013, three Al Jazeera journalists were convicted by Egypt on charges of spreading "false news". 

Peter Greste, an Australian journalist, was released after 400 days in prison. Shortly after, dual Egyptian-Canadian citizen, Mohamed Fahmy, renounced his Egyptian citizenship to secure his release.

The third journalist, Mahmoud Hussein, an Egyptian citizen, was arrested shortly after arriving in Egypt on a personal visit on 20 December 2016. He remains in prison. 

Earlier this year, Al Jazeera called on the Egyptian government to release Hussein, citing "deep concerns about his health amid the coronavirus outbreak".

Calls for his release have been largely ignored.

In May 2019, an Egyptian court rejected an order by the state prosecutor to release Hussein, Al Jazeera reported at the time. The news agency said that authorities had opened a new investigation against him with unspecified charges and had returned him to prison.

In September, at least 1,400 critics of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi were arrested in a crackdown on anti-government protesters. Those arrested included prominent academics, politicians and activists.