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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Egypt court sentences Sinai researcher for publishing military secrets

Mr Alexandriani was one of the few Egyptian academics to be able to uncover the extent of the military's role in the Sinai Peninsula, researcher Mr Badawi told The National

Egyptian Army's soldiers fire artilleries during a launch of a major assault against militants in the troubled northern part of the Sinai peninsula in Al Arish, Egypt, in this undated handout picture made available by the Ministry of Defence, February 27, 2018. Ministry of Defence, HO 
Egyptian Army's soldiers fire artilleries during a launch of a major assault against militants in the troubled northern part of the Sinai peninsula in Al Arish, Egypt, in this undated handout picture made available by the Ministry of Defence, February 27, 2018. Ministry of Defence, HO 

An Egyptian military court on Wednesday sentenced Ismail Alexandrani, a prominent journalist and expert on militant movements in the Sinai Peninsula, to 10 years in prison.

Alexandrani, who was arrested in November 2015, was accused of publishing military secrets and belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood, his lawyer Tarek Abdel Aal told AFP Tuesday. Judicial sources also confirmed the news.

Abdel Aal said they will appeal the verdict.

Alexandrani had been in pre-trial detention for two and a half years since his arrest in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada after he returned from a work trip in Berlin.

An expert on jihadist movements in North Sinai, where security forces are fighting an insurgency led by the Islamic State group, Alexandrani had been to Germany to deliver lectures on the political situation in Egypt, his wife Khadija Gaafar had said at the time.

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Alexandrani was also known for his anti-regime writings and for criticising the military's role in politics, and was a contributor to publications including the French online magazine Orient XXI, which confirmed his sentencing on Twitter.

Tamer Badawi, an Egyptian research fellow at the Al Sharq Forum in Istanbul, said that Mr Alexandrani is one of the few Egyptian academics that was able to uncover the grave socio-political and demographic repercussions that the military's operations brought on local inhabitants. This he said he was able to do because of his substantial access to sources in Sinai. The sentencing, Mr Badawi believes, will have a profound impact on the country’s activists and human rights researchers.

“What happened to Ismail just encourages more young Egyptians to flee their country, and possibly decide not to go back out of fear that they might be arbitrarily detained for some reason," Mr Badawi told The National. "After July 2013, many Egyptian intellectuals left the country, believing that it is nearly impossible to work in a needle sized margin of academic and journalistic freedom.

“Turning people’s homes into rubble is part of the same self-defeating security plan that has restricted food and movement to inflict pain on Sinai residents,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The Egyptian army claims it is protecting people from militants, but it’s absurd to think that destroying homes and displacing lifelong residents would make them safer.”

Amy spokesman Tamer El Rafai said all procedures in North Sinai were “conducted in accordance with the presidential decision to establish a buffer zone on the border."

Egyptian Army's Armoured Vehicles are seen on a highway to North Sinai during a launch of a major assault against militants, in Ismailia, Egypt, in this undated handout picture made available by the Ministry of Defence February 9, 2018. Ministry of Defence/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
Egyptian Army's Armoured Vehicles are seen on a highway to North Sinai during a launch of a major assault against militants, in Ismailia, Egypt. Ministry of Defence, HO via Reuters

The statement was the first by authorities on the buffer zone since 2016 when North Sinai govern orate officials reported that 2,090 homes were demolished in the "first two stages " of clearance along the frontier.

Tunnels in the area used to smuggle weapons, people and commercial goods have been targeted by the Egyptian and Israeli military since 2014 and it's widely believed that the Hamas administration in Gaza has profited from under-the border smuggling.

Colonel El Rafai added that relocated residents were receiving compensation and that the army was providing all basic goods, medical and administrative needs to affected citizens.