CAIRO: The Ministry of Interior has charged and detained Howayda Taha, a producer in Al-Jazeera’s newly-launched Documentary Channel, for possession of 50 videotapes that allegedly include simulated torture scenes in Egyptian police stations.
On Jan. 8, Cairo International Airport security prevented the Doha-based producer from boarding a plane for Qatar and confiscated 50 videotapes in her possession, her laptop and some books.
Taha was charged with a violation of Article 80/D in the Penal Code which relates to transgressions which are considered to be threatening the country s national interest.
She was also charged with the possession and transfer of falsified graphics that tarnish Egypt’s reputation and image.
A high ranking police official at the interior ministry told The Daily Star Egypt that Taha had arrived in Cairo to work on a documentary about Egyptian arts and crafts but that it was later discovered she had been working on alleged police abuse and torture, which the Egyptian Press Office had not approved.
He said the confiscated tapes included footage of mock torture scenes, including a video of a woman tied upside down and reportedly confessing to murder, which he said had been faked by Taha and her crew.
Authorities have confiscated the 50 tapes, which were all examined by experts to prove the fabrication, the official added.
He added that Taha is now detained by the internal security and her case is being reviewed by the general prosecutor’s office.
The main prosecution office will decide on the case and categorize it the way it should. Definitely, this case is about damaging Egypt s reputation through fabricating such torture scenes, he claimed.
Al-Jazeera Cairo bureau chief Hussein Abdel Ghani, however, said Taha did not violate any rules while working on her documentary and that the police had actually assisted her in the first stages of shooting with her camera crew.
Police officers helped her record in a training institution for police officers. They cooperated with her a lot but I don’t know why they confiscated the tapes, Abdel Ghani told The Daily Star Egypt.
He said, The documentaries included some scenes that were reenacted by some true victims. She didn’t fabricate, she wanted to reveal the image as it happens with absolute transparency, so she recorded those reenacted and planned to type in the documentary that the scenes are acted by true victims and weren’t recorded in actual police stations.
The videos are all considered drafts. They don’t yet include statements to imply that the scenes are acted to imitate reality. It would be unfair to base the judgment on such tapes, said Abdel Ghany.
Hafez Abu Seada, secretary general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, said Taha has been working on a documentary about the Egyptian police and the way they interact with the citizenry.
He said she wanted to make full coverage of issues and her documentaries included interviews with prominent Egyptian figures, former police officers, victims of police torture and ordinary civilians.
Abu Seada, who attended the investigation session with Taha at the prosecutor’s office, said Taha hasn’t been taking any steps in her documentary work without having legal approval from the State Information Services.
Taha presented the documented approval to the prosecution to prove she wasn’t working illegally. She was in contact with the police and she informed them of everything she was doing, said Abu Seada.
He said, The Egyptian Organization in Human Rights considers Taha’s arrest a serious threat to the freedom of the press and expression in Egypt.