Egyptian authorities have arrested journalist Karim Asaad after his fact-checking service published articles accusing officials of involvement in smuggling cash, weapons and gold to Zambia, the publication said Sunday.
Asaad was apprehended at his home in Greater Cairo early Saturday following questioning over coverage of the case, said a statement from the independent website, Matsada2sh.
His arrest brings the number of journalists behind bars in the Arab world’s most populous nation to 24, according to Egypt’s national press union.
“Our colleague, journalist Karim Asaad… was arrested after security forces dressed in civilian clothes stormed his home” at 1:00 am on Saturday (2200 GMT on Friday), said Matsada2sh.
“They physically assaulted his wife, threatened their young child, raided the apartment, and then led him away, forcefully disappeared, to an undisclosed location.”
The syndicate of Egyptian journalists has called on authorities to “free” Asaad and to “disclose his current location”.
There was no immediate comment from the authorities.
According to the Matsada2sh statement, “before his arrest, the only questions the assailants asked our colleague were related to our breaking coverage of the Zambia-Egypt plane story”.
The southern African country’s Drug Enforcement Commission on Tuesday announced its officers had seized “a chartered aircraft carrying dangerous goods” at Lusaka airport.
The plane was carrying nearly $5.7 million as well as pistols, ammunition and 127 kilos (280 pounds) of “suspected gold”, according to the statement.
The Zambian authorities have arrested 10 suspects, nine of them foreigners, it said.
Independent Egyptian journalists have published over social media documents purportedly from the Zambian probe that name Egyptian suspects in the case, including army and police officers.
AFP was unable to verify the authenticity of these documents.
Egyptian state media claimed the aircraft in question was privately owned and that it only transited through Cairo.
“So far, the only reaction from the government was to arrest… one of the only sources of information on this topic,” argued activist Lobna Darwish of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights in a social media post.
Matsda2sh, whose Arabic name translates into “Don’t believe”, was founded in London in 2018 by the late Egyptian journalist Mohamed Aboul Gheit.
The website said its staff and social media pages have been “subjected to a coordinated attack” since the plane report.
Two posts “related to our coverage” of the case “in which senior Egyptian government officials were involved” were deleted from Facebook, it added.
“We hold the Egyptian government responsible for the safety and well-being of our team.”
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranks Egypt 166th out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index.
Cairo has faced frequent criticism of its human rights record, from incarceration of dissidents and freedom of expression to LGBTQ and women’s rights.