The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX), welcomes the release of Al Jazeera journalist, Mahmoud Hussein, who was held in preventive detention since December 23, 2016, in Cairo, Egypt.
Hussein worked with the Doha-based Al Jazeera, an international media network, and was arrested on December 20, 2016, when he returned to Egypt after a family vacation. Upon his arrest, he was interrogated for several hours without a lawyer before being released. On December 23, 2020, he was rearrested. The Egyptian authorities only made this second arrest and detention publicly known two days later.
He was accused of publishing false information, spreading fake news, incitement against state institutions, and broadcasting false news to spread chaos. Hussein was so accused, simply because, the current Egyptian authorities perceive Al Jazeera; the media with whom Hussein worked as supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement that backed former President Mohamed Morsi. This movement is regarded as a terrorist organisation by the current government.
On May 23, 2019, a court ruled in favor of Hussein’s release. It however reversed the decision while additional charges were brought against the journalist. He was also deprived of legal assistance and interrogated without counsel.
Notwithstanding Hussein’s release, the stringent conditions under which he was freed is undermining his independence, freedom of movement, and his full rights as a journalist.
Since 2016, press freedom and freedom of expression landscape in Egypt have increasingly come under attack and is shrinking under the regime of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Several journalists have been arrested, tortured, and jailed.
An estimated 500 websites have been targeted by “draconian legislation” and bore the brunt of the anti-freedom of expression campaign embarked on by the current regime in Egypt.
Outspoken social media activists and several others have been jailed for criticizing the government or simply exercising their rights to free speech. Journalists are arrested and jailed for simply playing their constitutional mandated roles. All these attacks on the media, and social media users suggest a state-sanctioned clampdown on freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
Therefore, while AFEX is delighted that the four-year-long detention of journalist Mahmoud Hussein has ended, we condemn his illegal detention and denounce the repressive and discriminatory measures imposed on him and the media in the country. AFEX also demands that the Egyptian authorities abandon all charges leveled against Hussein and other journalists and social media activists arrested and still in detention.