Egypt refuses entry to Cairo-based French journalist

PARIS (Reuters) - Egypt denied entry to the Cairo correspondent of the La Croix newspaper and RTL radio without explanation after detaining him at the airport overnight, the French foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

Remy Pigaglio, who had been based in Cairo since 2014, arrived at Cairo International Airport on May 23 and was put on a flight out the next night despite high-level intervention by the French embassy, a statement by La Croix said.

It said Pigaglio had a valid six month journalist visa.

Egypt’s interior ministry and foreign ministry did not immediately respond to calls for comment on the case.

A security source at Cairo airport said Pigaglio had been deported because a security agency reported that he had taken “actions that harm Egypt and threaten its security”. The source gave no details on what those actions might have been.

The French foreign minister said he regretted the decision.

“I called my Egyptian counterpart and I told him that I could not remain indifferent to a situation that impairs freedom of the press... I regret this Egyptian decision,” Jean-Marc Ayrault told reporters in Paris.

The decision is potentially embarrassing for Paris, which has developed strong economic, military and political ties with Cairo since Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took power.

France signed several deals worth about 2 billion euros ($2.26 billion) with Egypt during a visit by President Francois Hollande to Cairo last month.

Pigaglio was quoted by La Croix as saying that he was not treated badly but was never given an explanation for the move.

In a joint statement, Cairo-based French correspondents condemned the move, which they said was symptomatic of a wider crackdown on freedoms of expression in Egypt.

“All French correspondents in Egypt find unacceptable the growing repression... exerted by the authorities on Egyptian and foreign media alike,” they said in the statement.

Media criticism of Sisi, a former general who overthrew elected President Mohamed Mursi in mid-2013 and crushed his Muslim Brotherhood supporters, has risen in recent months as the economy struggles and a crackdown on critics widens.

The interior ministry raided the press syndicate in Cairo this month and arrested two opposition journalists.

An Egyptian court also recommended death sentences this month for three journalists charged with endangering national security by leaking secrets to Qatar.

Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Louise Ireland