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Egyptian journalist appears in custody after going missing for two weeks

Ahmed Gamal Ziada is facing charges of 'spreading false news via social social media'
Ahmed Gamal Ziada at a protest in downtown Cairo outside the Syndicate of Journalists demanding the release of journalists (MEE/Belal Darder)

Egyptian journalist Ahmed Gamal Ziada appeared at a prosecutor’s office in Giza after going missing for 15 days, according to his brother and a local rights group.

The prosecutor charged Ziada with “spreading false news via social media” and ordered him to be placed in pretrial detention at the Giza Central Prison, according to the Arab Network for Human Rights Information.

Ziada was arrested on 29 January upon his arrival at Cairo airport from Tunisia, where he has lived for the past six months studying journalism, according to his brother Mohamed Gamal Ziada.

The journalist was en route to a meeting at the Press Syndicate, where he was due to be interviewed by board members on Wednesday as part of his application for membership to the body.

In response to his disappearance, fellow journalist Eman Ouf has called on fellow members of the Syndicate to sign a petition calling on the body's president to approve Ziada’s application without the meeting with the board due to the circumstances of his arrest.

The petition condemned Ziada’s arrest and labelled it an “enforced disappearance”, and asked the Syndicate to file a legal complaint with the relevant authorities to demand his release. 

Ziada, a journalist and photographer, was previously detained in December 2013 on a range of charges including illegal protesting and engagement in violent activities, allegations dating to his coverage of clashes that took place at al-Azhar University campus that year. 

He was then held in pretrial detention for nearly 500 days until he was acquitted in 2015. During his detention, he took part in a partial hunger strike for 100 days, in protest at what he called false charges and unjust imprisonment.

Media protection and rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the arrest and friends, activists and supporters took to social media to highlight the case, using the hashtags #FreeZiada in English and #whereisAhmedGamalZiada in Arabic.

According to RSF, at least 32 Egyptian journalists are currently detained in Egypt, ranked 161st in the RSF 2018 press freedom index.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who came to power after leading a military coup against his predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013, has led a crackdown on dissent that has seen the detention at least 60,000 political prisoners, according to rights groups, and the inauguration of 19 new prisons to accommodate the growing number of detainees.