Egypt: RSF calls for immediate release of recently jailed journalists

Reporters Without Borders called on Egypt on Thursday to release four Al Jazeera journalists immediately.

Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) known as Reporters has called for the immediate release of an Al Jazeera journalist who was arrested at Cairo airport two and a half weeks ago.

According to the RSF statement, the Egyptian authorities are also holding two other Al Jazeera Mubasher journalists on charges of ‘spreading false news’ and ‘membership of a terrorist group’. “… the release of three other journalists employed by the Qatari TV broadcaster who are still held by the Egyptian authorities despite the recent resumption of diplomatic relations between Egypt and Qatar,” the RSF statement read.

Al Jazeera Mubasher producer Rabie El-Sheikh was arrested on 1 August on his return from a visit to Doha, the Qatari capital, where Al Jazeera has its headquarters. A Cairo court is about to decide whether to extend his 15-day pre-trial detention on a charge of “spreading false news.”

El-Sheikh’s arrest followed the leak of a phone call recording in which he is heard inviting the columnist Abdel Nasser Salama to be interviewed on one of his programs. Salama was himself arrested on 18 July after calling for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to resign.

El-Sheikh was arrested although Egypt and Doha recently exchanged ambassadors, restoring diplomatic relations severed since 2017, and although, on 1 August, Al Jazeera was allowed to broadcast live from Cairo for the first time since 2013, when its Cairo bureau was closed because of its coverage of the military coup that ousted President Mohamed Morsi.

Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry even agreed to be interviewed by Al Jazeera during a visit to Qatar in June.

Two other Al Jazeera Mubasher journalists are being held in Egypt on charges of “spreading false news” and “membership of a terrorist group.” One is Bahaa Ed-Din Ibrahim, who has been jailed since February 2020 and who was isolated for 75 days and given electric shocks.

The other is Hesham Abdel Aziz, who has been held since June 2019 and who is suffering from a glaucoma needing surgery. A court approved his release in December 2019, but he remained in detention because a new investigation was opened against him.

According to the information obtained by RSF, a fourth Al Jazeera journalist whose name remains confidential has been held since June 2020.

“We urge the Egyptian authorities to go the whole way in their detente with Qatar by releasing all imprisoned Al Jazeera employees,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk.

“The resumption of activities by Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau won’t be regarded as complete as long as these journalists continue to suffer for the years of political rivalry between the two countries.”

Mahmoud Hussein, an Al Jazeera journalist who was arrested on landing in Cairo in December 2016, was finally released in February 2021 after being held for just over four years.

Egypt is ranked 166th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.