British daily says Egypt forced out correspondent over virus report

Egyptians bound for GCC countries gather in front of the Central Public Health Laboratories in downtown Cairo as they wait to get tested for the Covid-19 coronavirus on March 8, 2020.
Egyptians bound for GCC countries gather in front of the Central Public Health Laboratories in downtown Cairo as they wait to get tested for the Covid-19 coronavirus on March 8, 2020.
Image: AFP/ KHALED DESOUKI

A British newspaper said on Thursday that its correspondent in Egypt was forced to leave the country after authorities revoked her credentials over a report on coronavirus infections there.

“Ruth Michaelson, who has lived in and reported from Egypt since 2014, was advised last week by western diplomats that the country’s security services wanted her to leave immediately,” The Guardian newspaper said.

Earlier this month, the journalist published an article citing Canadian epidemiologists who estimated Egypt’s Covid-19 infections could have surpassed 19,000.

Egypt’s health ministry has declared 495 coronavirus cases. Speculation has circulated on social media that the real figures are higher.

Egyptian authorities accused Michaelson of “intentional bad faith to harm Egyptian interests”.

The Guardian said the authorities demanded a retraction or an official apology.

It said it offered to publish a written response from Egypt to the article or the epidemiologists’ study but received no reply to that offer.

Michaelson left Egypt on March 20, according to the British daily.

New York-based watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) deplored Michaelson’s “expulsion”.

“Accurate information about the Covid-19 pandemic ... should not be stifled for political convenience,” the CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour, said in a statement.

On Sunday, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said his government had dealt with the novel coronavirus pandemic with “full transparency” and denied the true infection rate was being suppressed.

Egypt has increasingly targeted journalists in an ongoing crackdown against government dissidents since the 2013 military ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

The country ranks 163rd out of 180 countries in the 2019 Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index.


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