(NEW YORK)–  The arrest of Egyptian journalist Karim Asaad, during which he and his wife were assaulted in their home, along with the ongoing detention of writer and publisher Hisham Kassem, casts “serious doubt” on Egypt’s commitment to reform, PEN America said today.

Egyptian security forces raided Asaad’s home in the early morning hours of August 19 and assaulted both him and his wife, searched their home and seized electronics and other valuables before detaining him. He was released the next day but it is not clear whether he still faces charges.

“Coming so soon after Ahmed Douma and Patrick Zaki were pardoned, the arrest of Karim Asaad and ongoing detention of Hisham Kassem once again spotlight Egypt’s dire record on freedom of expression and cast serious doubts on the government’s broader commitment to reform. The Egyptian government should release Hisham Kassem and all others detained in Egypt for their writings, and should end its campaign of arrests and harassment against anyone who writes or shares news critical of the government,” said Justin Shilad, Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy lead for PEN America.

Asaad works as a journalist for Matsda2sh, an online fact-checking platform. On August 16 the site  began publishing details about six Egyptian nationals, including security officials, who were arrested in the Zambian capital of Lusaka aboard a private jet that had arrived from Cairo carrying cash valuables and weapons.

Egyptian authorities also detained Hisham Kassem on August 20, in connection with a complaint filed by former labor minister Kamal Abu Eita against him for libel and slander over Kassem’s Facebook posts criticizing Abu Eita. The arrest came a day after Kassem posted on Twitter about Asaad’s arrest. A local prosecutor’s office in Cairo ordered him detained after he refused to pay bail. Kassem was recently appointed chairman of the board of the Free Current, a newly-formed coalition of several Egyptian political parties, and was previously publisher of the now-defunct Cairo Times and editor of the news outlet Al-Masry Al-Youm.

The new arrests come after several high profile cases of Egyptian writers receiving presidential pardons, including Patrick Zaki shortly after he was sentenced to three years in prison, and Ahmed Douma, pardoned after spending over a decade behind bars. Other writers, such as Alaa Abd El Fattah and Galal El-Behairy, continue to languish in prison.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057