The collateral victim of tensions between Egypt and Qatar, Hussein was arrested on his arrival in Egypt on 23 December 2016 on a flight from Doha, where he worked at Al Jazeera’s headquarters. He is expected to leave the police station in a few hours.
He had flown to Egypt just to visit his family but he was detained on charges of “membership of a terrorist group” and “spreading fake news.” Egypt regards Al Jazeera’s coverage as biased in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement that backed former President Mohamed Morsi but is regarded as a terrorist organization by the current government.
“What an enormous relief for Mahmoud Hussein and his family,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “After four interminable years of arbitrary detention, this journalist’s release shows that charges against him were completely baseless and that his only crime was working for Al Jazeera. But he has yet to be fully vindicated inasmuch as his conditional release still leaves him as a suspect in the eyes of the authorities.”
Hussein’s detention kept on being extended until a court ruled in favour of his release on 23 May 2019. But, at the last moment and against all expectation, the authorities opened a new investigation against him on the same charges, and this served as grounds for keeping him in prison.
Despite repeated requests by his family, he was not given permission to leave prison to visit his ailing father. He was only after his father’s death in November 2019 that he was allowed out of prison to attend the funeral.
Hussein talked on camera to journalists in a January 2020 TV report designed to show conditions in Egypt’s prisons. The footage was carried widely by pro-government media under the headline: “The correspondent of terrorist Al Jazeera recognizes being well treated in prison and receiving the necessary medical care.”
Under the conditions of his release, Hussein will be required to visit a police station several times a week in order to answer questions and report on his activities.
The number of journalists and bloggers detained in Egypt now stands at 33. This is more than in any other country in the world except China and Saudi Arabia.
Egypt is ranked 166th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.