CAIRO -- Egyptian authorities arrested a British journalist and expelled her from the country after threatening her with a military trial, The Times said on Saturday. The move comes as part of a heavy crackdown on media ahead of this month's presidential elections.
Bel Trew, who has been in Egypt for seven years, had been detained and faced "sufficiently outlandish" threats to suggest a misunderstanding over reporting she carried out in a central Cairo district, The Times (of London) said. She was expelled in late February. The British daily has been since attempting to bring about Trew's safe return to Cairo to cover the elections but to no avail.
"It is now clear that the authorities have no intention of allowing her to return," The Times said in a statement. Egyptian authorities were not immediately available for comment.
Trew said in an account on the Times' website that she has been listed as a persona non-grata and that Cairo authorities threatened to re-arrest her if she attempts to return.
She said her reporting in the district of Shoubra was part of a story on a migrant boat that disappeared two years ago. An informer seems to have reported her to the police, she added. She was stopped shortly after she left a cafe where she was conducting an interview.
"The taxi had just pulled away from the café ... when a minibus of plain-clothes police officers cut us off. Five men jumped out and took me to a nearby police station," she said, adding that she provided the authorities with the audio recording of the interview. "It was either ignored and not listened to - or listened to and ignored," she said.
Egypt has often detained, jailed and prosecuted journalists under President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who led the military's 2013 overthrow of elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, after mass protests against his one-year divisive rule.
Advocacy group Reporters Without Borders ranked Egypt as 161 out of 180 countries on their 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists ranked Egypt among the top worst jailers of journalists in a December report. It says some 20 reporters remain detained; several face charges of spreading "false news."
Some 500 websites have been blocked since last year including many run by rights groups, sites critical of the government and the VPN services that help users bypass the blocks.
Pro-el-Sissi businessmen have also expanded their reach into an already cowed private media, according to Reporters Without Borders. The group says security forces maintain a list of "wanted" journalists they have sometimes even forcibly disappeared, and are especially keen to crack down on individuals who sell video content to opposition media abroad.
The government's stepped up warnings to the media ahead of the 26-28 March presidential election, in which el-Sissi faces no serious challenge after a string of hopefuls were forced out of the race or arrested. His only challenger is a little-known candidate who supports him.
Early March saw some of the harshest official rhetoric to date taking aim at the press. The country's chief prosecutor, Nabil Sadeq, described the media as "forces of evil" -- one of el-Sissi's hallmark phrases -- saying they have been trying to "undermine the security and safety of the nation through the broadcast and publication of lies and false news." El-Sissi himself described any defamation of the country's security forces as "high treason."
Shortly thereafter, a bill was proposed in parliament criminalizing any statements authorities define as insults toward the armed forces or police, with penalties of at least three-year jail terms and fines upward of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (or $567).
Egyptian authorities have also published a list of telephone numbers for citizens to alert reports they view as undermining security or spreading false news.