Egypt orders 15-day detention of woman in BBC report over 'false news'

FILE PHOTO: BBC workers place barriers near to the main entrance of the BBC headquarters and studios in Portland Place, London, Britain July 16, 2015. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt’s public prosecutor ordered the detention of a woman interviewed by the BBC in a recent report that sparked controversy, alleging in a statement that she had committed the offense of spreading “false news”.

The woman, whom the public prosecutor named as Mona Mohamed, said in the report that security forces had forcibly disappeared her daughter last year, causing a strong backlash this week from Egyptian authorities.

The daughter was then interviewed on a nightly talk show days later where she denied the claim. Reuters was not able independently to verify either account.

The public prosecutor ordered Mohamed to be detained for 15 days pending investigations, the statement said. It said Mohamed had already been arrested by security forces in the days after the BBC report was published.

Egypt’s government press center said this week the BBC report was “fraught with lies” and called for a boycott of the British broadcaster. The BBC said: “We are aware of the reports about this BBC story on Egyptian TV and of the comments of the head of the State Information Service. We stand by the integrity of our reporting teams.”

Egypt has stepped up a crackdown on media outlets it deems to be publishing reports which might harm national security, as the country approaches a presidential election where President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is virtually guaranteed a second term, and the military fights to crush Islamic State militants in the Sinai Peninsula.

The public prosecutor earlier this week urged action against outlets publishing what it called false news, and Sisi said defamation of the army or police was tantamount to treason.

The public prosecutor also accused Mohamed of joining an illegal group that aimed to undermine state institutions, which a pro-government Egyptian news outlet, Ahram Online, said was a reference to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Rights groups say that during Sisi’s presidency, which began a year after he led the overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in 2013, there is a growing crackdown on dissent, including against opposition figures in the upcoming election.

Editing by William Maclean