Wednesday,20 March, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1383, (1 - 7 March 2018)
Wednesday,20 March, 2019
Issue 1383, (1 - 7 March 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Shadow over the BBC

The State Information Service pounces on the BBC for its false report on forced detention in Egypt, writes Reem Leila


Shadow over the BBC
Shadow over the BBC

The BBC claimed Zubaida Younis disappeared a year ago after being kidnapped by police. Yet on Monday she appeared on a prime time talk show and said she is free and living with her husband and 15-day-old son.

On Tuesday, the State Information Service (SIS) issued a strongly worded statement calling on officials and intellectuals to boycott the British broadcaster until it apologises for its misleading report.

“The appearance of Zubaida on the talk show negates the authenticity of the BBC report on her enforced disappearance and torture,” said SIS in a statement. It then demanded the BBC “issue an immediate apology” for its “gross professional errors”. 

The appearance of Younis with TV anchor Amr Adib came four days after the BBC published a 5,000-word report under the title The Shadow over Egypt. It included interviews with families of alleged victims of torture and enforced disappearances. The report was written by Orla Guerin, BBC correspondent to Egypt between 2013 and January 2018.

Guerin claimed in her report that the number of people forcibly disappeared by security forces has grown, quoting human rights activists who allege that 163 cases had been recorded in just two months.

Younis’ was among the cases mentioned in the report. Her mother, who appeared in a video, claimed her daughter had been forcibly disappeared. According to her mother they were both arrested at a Muslim Brotherhood rally in 2014. They were freed four months later but “Zubaida disappeared again since last April after our neighbours saw security personnel wearing masks kidnapping her in a van.”

“I don’t know where she is,” Younis’ mother said.

Adib, the host of Kol Youm talk show, revealed at the beginning of the programme that security personnel had called him and asked if he wanted to interview Younis. She appeared later in the show with her husband and 15-day-old baby. She said she lives with her husband in the Faisal district of Giza and had not been in contact with her mother since last March because of personal reasons.

Confirming that she and her mother were arrested in 2014, Younis said she had no idea why her mother had claimed she had been kidnapped and tortured.

In the course of the interview Adib asked Younis several times whether she had been pressured into saying she was not arrested or forcibly disappeared. She repeatedly denied being pressured by anyone.

Before the interview was broadcast SIS head Diaa Rashwan summoned head of the BBC office in Egypt and demanded the BBC apologise for its story.

Rashwan issued a statement pointing out that the BBC had offered no evidence for the alleged disappearance of Younis beyond he mother’s unfounded allegations, and argued that the failure to corroborate the charges “casts doubts on the author’s intentions and objectives”.

He criticised Guerin for quoting sources — human rights activists, lawyers and former prisoners — who claimed torture is systematic in Egyptian jails, without identifying them.

“The report was full of contradictions which revealed the author’s deliberate intention to paint an offensive image of Egypt,” said Rashwan.

Among other cases mentioned in the BBC report was that of activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah who is currently serving a five-year sentence for protesting without permission.

In her report, Rashwan said, Guerin ignored the fact that on 20 February, two days before the story was published — an administrative court ruled that the prison authorities should supply Abdel-Fattah with books, scientific periodicals and magazines.

“The ruling was immediately enforced, highlighting the falseness of her claims regarding the Egyptian judiciary and the way prisoners are treated in jail,” said Rashwan.

The report also described the 2013 revolution as a coup despite it being supported by the vast majority of Egyptians.

“The report was politicised, suspicious and attempted to tarnish Egypt’s reputation abroad,” says Laila Abdel-Meguid, a former dean of the Faculty of Mass Communication at Cairo University.

“It has underlined an urgent need to change the way we deal with foreign correspondents.”

“SIS statements must be translated and distributed to media channels. SIS should also work on re-opening its offices abroad to counter this kind of misinformation.”

The Youth Press Front, an independent group of young journalists, accused the Muslim Brotherhood of playing a role in fabricating the report.

“The BBC’s report was an extension of reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. They can all be sourced to the terrorist group which seeks to spread chaos and violence in Egypt,” said Youth Press Front head Haitham Tawala.

Alaa Abed, head of parliament’s Human Rights Committee, said committee members have conducted several surprise visits to police stations and “not a single torture case was reported”.

“The BBC report is part of a campaign against Egypt’s leadership and people which is intensifying as presidential elections approach and while military forces are sweeping terrorists out of Sinai,” he added.

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