(New York, NY) — Mustafa Ali Hassanien, an Egyptian filmmaker and student at CUNY College of Staten Island, is currently being held in pretrial detention in Egypt and faces a number of charges that appear to be a politically motivated response to his criticism of the government. PEN America and the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk (ICFR) denounced his detention and said that Hassanien’s arrest is an inexcusable violation of artistic freedom and a blatant attempt to silence political dissent. 

“The outrageous arrest of this young artist is just one more indication of Egypt’s flagrant and disturbing hostility to freedom of expression,” said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “Earlier this year, another young filmmaker died after just over two years pre-trial detention in Egypt. Now, Hassanien is not only being held on illegitimate charges, but also faces serious health risks as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Egyptian detention facilities, and as prisoners lack access to proper medical care. How many more artists must face threats to their lives for merely expressing themselves? We call upon the Egyptian authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally.”

Hassanien is enrolled as a Cinema Studies student at the College of Staten Island (CSI) CUNY, and has been politically outspoken both in Egypt and in his time abroad. Hassanien was arrested at the Cairo International Airport on May 14, 2020, on his way home to visit his loved ones. Among the accusations against him are “spreading false news,” “disturbing public security,” and “belonging to a terrorist organization,” vaguely-defined charges that are typically among those levied against dissidents who speak out against the government. He was transferred between a number of facilities before eventually being held without formal charges at the infamous Tora Prison. On August 24,  his detention was renewed for the seventh time. 

In recent years, Egyptian authorities have consistently targeted political dissidents and those who express critical views of the government through peaceful artistic expression. Journalists, artists, lawyers, academics, and even social media influencers have been swept up in this broad crackdown and are frequently held in pre-trial detention, a status which is regularly exploited to allow authorities to hold detainees for years in jail without ever charging them or bringing them to trial. Blogger and satirist ​Shady Abuzeid and film editor and activist ​Sanaa Seif both continue to be held in pretrial detention, and earlier this year, filmmaker and director Shady Habash died in custody after being held in pre-trial detention for over 800 days.

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC here.