Four years after his unjust “preventive detention,” Mahmoud Hussein, a 54-year-old journalist, was finally released from jail in Egypt on Thursday, February 4th, Thursday. The terms of his release are that he will have to report at the nearest police station two times every week. Back in 2016, when Hussein returned to Cairo from Doha to visit his family as part of his annual leave, he was arrested on the basis of “spreading false information” and “belonging to a banned group” while reporting for the Qatar media platform Al Jazeera. During his detention, he was neither charged nor was he brought to trial.
In a statement issued on their website, Al Jazeera wholeheartedly welcomed the news announcing that “No journalist should ever be subjected to what Mahmoud has suffered for the past four years for merely carrying out his profession.” Prior to the liberation of Mahmoud Hussein, several human rights NGOs, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have called Egypt and the European Union for the immediate and unconditional release of peaceful activists, politicians, human right defenders, and journalists.
Furthermore, UN human rights expert, Mary Lawlor, condemned the nature of these Egypt’s detentions telling the Middle East Eye she was “extremely concerned by the seemingly unrelenting efforts of the Egyptian authorities to silence dissent… despite repeated calls from UN mechanisms and the international community.” Some experts, such as Andreas Krieg from King’s College London, have linked the timing of Al Jazeera’s journalist’s release with Egypt’s willingness to improve their relationship with Qatar and their news channel. “For Egypt, Al Jazeera remains the most important nuisance in the relationship with Qatar,” told Kreig to Arab News.
The arrest of Mahmoud Hussein in 2016 was yet another case in the sea of “preventive arrests” of journalists, activists, and politicians that openly criticized President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Egypt received the lowest qualification by the Freedom House index (1/4) in 2020. Indeed, this organization has pointed out that the Egyptian media sector is dominated by pro-government outlets, and journalists who fail to align with them risk dismissal. Last December, 26 journalists were reported by the Committee to Protect Journalists to have been detained in Egypt.
The recent liberation of Mahmoud Hussein indicates hope for Egypt’s future development of peaceful cooperation in foreign relations, such as with Qatar. Nevertheless, let’s not forget that the jail’s doors opened up for presumed convicts that should have never crossed them in the first place. The search for journalistic truth should not cost years off of a man’s life. Journalists should not be treated as pawns to trade when wanting to improve foreign relations. Therefore, the international community ought to continue calls to Egypt regarding freeing Hussein’s peers.
The recent releases of journalists and activists in Egypt should be celebrated as a return to a more peaceful and stable situation; however, the advocacy for the liberation of the other 26 journalists detained should still continue as strongly as before.
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