Egypt ousted a correspondent for The Guardian over a report citing a study that questioned the official count of coronavirus cases in the most populous country in the Arab world.
The British newspaper reported Thursday that its correspondent, Ruth Michaelson, left the country last week after western diplomats informed him that the Egyptian security services wanted him to leave "immediately," the newspaper said.
Michaelson reported on unpublished research by Canadian infectious disease specialists that estimated an outbreak size of more than 19,000 cases in Egypt. Scientists used data from early March when Egypt officially had only three confirmed cases, according to Michaelson's report released March 15.
The next day, Michaelson, along with a New York Times journalist who tweeted his story, was summoned by Egyptian officials and told they were charged with "misinforming,quot; and "spreading panic," The Guardian said.
A day later, Egypt's State Information Services, the government agency that oversees foreign correspondents, revoked Michaelson's press credentials and issued a statement accusing her of citing a "misleading,quot; study based on "false conclusions,quot; and " speculation. "
Egyptian authorities threatened to close the Guardian's Cairo office if the newspaper refuses to retract the story and presents an official apology, according to the statement.
Egypt said on Wednesday there were 456 cases of the new coronavirus in the country, including 21 deaths. In recent weeks, the government has tightened precautionary measures to contain the pandemic by closing schools, restaurants, and recreational facilities, reducing the workforce in public and private companies, and ultimately imposing an 11-hour daily curfew. The state media has asked people to observe social distancing and stay at home.
Michaelson, who lived in Egypt and reported on Egypt since 2014, boarded a flight to Germany alongside stranded foreign nationals last Friday, a day after Egypt suspended all commercial flights to stop the spread of the virus.
The Guardian said it offered to publish a rebuttal of the Canadian study by Egyptian authorities, but received no response to the offer.
"We regret that the Egyptian authorities have chosen to revoke the accreditation of a journalist working for an independent and reliable media organization such as The Guardian," said a newspaper spokesman.
Egypt remains among the worst journalists' jailers in the world, along with Turkey and China, according to the United States-based watchdog, the Committee to Protect Journalists. Authorities have jailed dozens of reporters and occasionally deported some foreign journalists.
& # 39; Invented charges & # 39;
Al Jazeera's Mahmoud Hussein has been jailed without trial in Egypt for more than three years on charges of producing "false news,quot;, charges the network vehemently denies.
The Qatar-based network last week urged authorities in Egypt to immediately release Hussein and other imprisoned journalists.
"It is unacceptable that Mahmoud has been detained by the Egyptian authorities for almost 1,200 days for simply being a journalist with unfounded accusations and false charges," said Al Jazeera Media Network Acting Director General Mostefa Souag.
"In the current circumstances, with the spread of the coronavirus and the associated health risks, Mahmoud and other journalists are exposed to extreme risks," Souag added.
As fears of an outbreak rise, Egyptian authorities seek to suppress any attempt to challenge the official narrative. Earlier this month, police arrested three people for Facebook posts about the coronavirus, saying they spread "rumors,quot; and "false news,quot; about reported cases in the country.
Al Jazeera and news agencies