CAIRO, March 25 (Reuters) - Egypt said on Sunday it had deported a British journalist working for the Times newspaper last month because she was working illegally.
The Times said on Saturday its correspondent, 33-year-old Bel Trew, who had been based in Cairo for several years, was arrested while reporting on a migrant boat that had vanished two years ago, and forced to leave Egypt with no access to a lawyer.
The newspaper described an “increasingly oppressive environment” for media in Egypt ahead of a presidential election starting on Monday.
Egypt’s State Information Service, which oversees the accreditation of foreign journalists, said in a statement Trew had been expelled partly because she had not applied for a temporary press card, saying this was a “violation”.
Trew had, however, applied for an annual card, which is required for foreign journalists to work in the country, SIS said.
Annual cards for all foreign journalists had been delayed this year due to “technical circumstances”, it added.
Trew had successfully applied for an annual card for the last five years, SIS said, and criticised her reporting throughout that time as containing “erroneous information”.
The Times did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Trew went to a Cairo district in February “to practise journalistic work without permission” and “as a result of these two flagrant violations, the Egyptian relevant authorities took its decision to deport the British journalist,” SIS said.
SIS criticised foreign media for reporting on Trew’s expulsion without seeking government comment.
Egypt’s public prosecutor told state prosecutors last month to take legal action against media outlets found to be publishing false news, statements and rumours following strong official criticism of some foreign media coverage in Egypt.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said this month any insult by a media organisation of the army or police is defamation of the country and treason, rather than freedom of opinion.
Reuters sought comment on Saturday from SIS, the interior ministry, and Sisi’s office before reporting Trew’s deportation but calls and WhatsApp messages were not answered after several hours.
Trew said in an article in The Times she was detained by police in central Cairo after conducting an interview with “a man whose nephew, a teenage migrant, had probably drowned at sea trying to get to Italy” and held for hours then was “marched onto a plane” at Cairo airport bound for London.
Rights groups say authorities have cracked down on press freedom in the run-up to the March 26-28 presidential election.
Egyptian authorities have urged legal action against media outlets they deem to be publishing “fake news”, and rights activists say several local journalists have also been arrested in recent months.
Egypt says its election will be free and fair and that clamping down on what it deems fake news is necessary for stability. (Editing by David Evans)