A Cairo court agreed in principle on 3 November to release Sayed Abdellah and Mohamed Ibrahim, a blogger also known as Mohamed Oxygen, who have been held since September 2019, and Haitham Hasan Mahgoub, held since May 2020. Two other journalists, Sameh Hanin and Awni Nafie, were actually released the same day.
The decisions came just days after 56 members of both houses of the US congress and more than 220 European parliamentarians wrote letters to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi urging him to free prisoners of conscience, including journalists, whose detention is virtually a death sentence because of the danger of catching Covid-19 in crowded prison conditions.
While the release decisions seem to be linked to these US and European initiatives, the release of three of the journalists has still not taken place. And exactly a week after the 3 November decision, Mohamed Oxygen learned that he was the subject of a new investigation on suspicion of “membership of a terrorist group,” requiring an additional 15 days of provisional detention.
Some of the many journalists still in prison in Egypt were named in the letters. They include Mahmoud Hussein, Alaa Abdel Fattah and Hossam Al-Sayyad. New investigations have been meanwhile been opened against two other detained journalists, Solafa Magdy and Esraa Abdel Fattah, for offences allegedly committed while in prison.
“These releases are so unusual as to deserve being highlighted but they are far from sufficient and the list of journalists currently in Egyptian prisons is still much too long,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk.
“Instead of freeing journalists in ones and two and prolonging the detention of others indefinitely, the Egyptian authorities should comply with international law by agreeing to immediately release all of the arbitrarily detained journalists together.”
Egypt is ranked 166th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.