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Al Jazeera concerned over ‘distressing conditions’ of detained journalists in Egypt

The detention of both journalists has exceeded the pretrial period stipulated by Egyptian law.

Al Jazeera has expressed concern over the “distressing conditions” of its detained journalists in Egypt on Tuesday, and held Egyptian authorities solely responsible for their deteriorating health.

In its latest statement, the Qatar-based network renewed its calls for the release of its journalists Rabee Al-Sheikh and Bahaa Al-Din Ibrahim, both of whom were detained in 2021 and 2020 respectively.

Today Al Jazeera Media Network solemnly commemorates two years since of Al Jazeera Mubasher producer Rabee Al-Sheikh was unlawfully imprisoned in Egypt.

— Al Jazeera PR (@AlJazeera) August 1, 2023

“Al Jazeera Media Network expresses its deep concern over the distressing conditions faced by Rabee Al-Sheikh and Bahaa Al-Din Ibrahim, who have been enduring an ordeal marked by repeated legal violations and extensions of their detention without trial,” the media network said.

Since the detainment of the two journalists, Egyptian authorities have periodically renewed their imprisonment for 15-to-45 days, a widely known tactic often used by the regime. The detention of both journalists has exceeded the pretrial period stipulated by Egyptian law.

Al Jazeera also raised its concerns over the lack of basic health and hygiene inside prison cells holding the two journalists, both of whom suffer with chronic illnesses. 

The statement however fell short of specifying their medical conditions.

“Their prison cells lack the most basic conditions of health and hygiene, posing a serious threat to their health and exacerbating the challenges of coping with their chronic illnesses. Al Jazeera holds the Egyptian authorities fully responsible for their health, safety, and wellbeing,” the statement added.

The latest statement came on the two-year commemoration of the arrest of Al-Sheikh, who was detained at Cairo International Airport while visiting his family. 

Ibrahim was separately arrested in 2020 upon his arrival at the airport in 2020 when he was travelling back to Doha.

The network gathered its journalists at its headquarters in Qatar on Wednesday to commemorate the arrest of the two journalists, amplifying previous calls for their release.

“The network appeals to all international press freedom and human rights organisations to support us in demanding the immediate release of our colleagues Rabee Al-Sheikh and Bahaa El-Din Ibrahim and other journalists unjustly imprisoned in Egypt,” Al Jazeera said.

Crackdown on press freedom

A week earlier, Cairo Criminal Court confirmed journalists from the Qatar-based network were named on a revised terror list. Those included in the terror list are subject to travel bans, passport cancellations, and the freezing of assets, Al Jazeera said, without identifying the journalists.

Al Jazeera issued a statement shortly after the court unveiled the list, which it reviews every five years, and called on Egyptian authorities to “reconsider and refrain from measures that impede journalistic work and restrict freedoms”.

The media network described the move as an “unjust categorisation” and called on the United Nations and other global human rights entities to pressure Egypt to halt its violations towards the press.

Egypt’s ongoing violations against Al Jazeera journalists comes despite rapprochement between Doha and Cairo following a years-long 2017 diplomatic dispute. 

At the time, Egypt joined Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain in severing ties with Qatar and imposed an illegal air, land and sea blockade on the Gulf state.

Al Jazeera has been subjected to various violations since the 2013 military coup that saw current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi seize power from then-leader Mohamed Morsi—Egypt’s first democratically elected leader.

The Egyptian regime is notoriously known for its disturbing record of violating press freedom and has been described by Reporters Without Borders as “the world’s biggest prison for journalists”.