1,400 days in prison for being a journalist: Al Jazeera makes renewed plea for Egypt to release Mahmoud Hussein

The head of news giant Al Jazeera has made a renewed plea for the release of journalist Mahmoud Hussein who, as of 23 October, has been locked up in an Egyptian prison for 1,400 days.

Mostefa Souag, the acting director general of Al Jazeera Media Network, is calling on “the international community to pressure Egypt” into releasing Hussein and other journalists from jail.

On the 1,400th day of Hussein’s “arbitrary and illegal detention”, Souag said: “Mahmoud’s detention, which is in grave violation of both Egyptian and international law, is deplorable. It must come to an end.

“With the high risk of transmission of Covid-19 in crowded prison conditions, we call upon the Egyptian Authority to free all detained journalists and urge the international community to pressure Egypt and all governments to reaffirm the values of press freedom.”

Hussein, an Egyptian national who worked for Al Jazeera in Qatar, was arrested on 23 December 2016 while on holiday with his family.

In a press release, Al Jazeera described Egypt as one of the world’s “leading violators of press freedom,” adding that “even under Egyptian law it is supposedly illegal to hold an individual without charge for more than two years”.

It said the authorities had “eluded” this law by releasing Hussein after two years only to re-arrest him “on an additional fictitious charge”.

Reporters Without Borders labels Egypt as one of the worst countries in the world for press freedom. It ranked 166th out of 180 in its 2020 index, behind the likes of Afghanistan (122), Russia (149), Kazakhstan (157) and Iraq (162).

Hussein’s employer said in a statement: “Al Jazeera condemns the unlawful detention and refutes all charges against Mahmoud, and calls on the international community, media professionals, and human rights advocates to raise awareness and demand the immediate release of Mahmoud Hussein and all other journalists imprisoned around the world.

“At Al Jazeera we stand in solidarity with all our colleagues in the media. We demand that no journalist should be intimidated, persecuted or imprisoned for carrying out their duty; journalism is not a crime.”

Earlier this week, hundreds of European and US politicians, as well as organisations including Amnesty International, sent letters to Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi denouncing the detention of “prisoners of conscience” in the country. Hussein was among the prisoners listed, alongside several other journalists, human rights lawyers and human rights researchers.

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