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Egypt releases Al Jazeera journalist from prison following years of detention without trial

Two other journalists from the Qatar-based broadcaster remain behind bars in Egypt.

Egyptian authorities have released Al Jazeera Mubasher journalist Hisham Abdelaziz following years-long imprisonment without trial, the broadcaster reported on Tuesday.

According to Al Jazeera, Abdelaziz joined 40 other prisoners who were released by authorities in Cairo. However, the fate of his detained Al Jazeera colleagues Rabie El-Sheikh and Bahauddin Ibrahim remains unclear.

Abdelaziz was arrested in Cairo International Airport on 20 June 2019 and was accused of “joining a terrorist group”, an allegation often used by the regime in Cairo to crack down on journalists and political dissidents.

He was then subjected to enforced disappearance for almost a month and his family and friends were given no information regarding his whereabouts or condition.

In 2021, Abdelaziz’s health condition worsened after suffering from glaucoma in his eyes and required urgent surgery to prevent the complete loss of his eyesight. He also contracted otosclerosis, a condition that could seriously harm the ability to hear.

Earlier this month, authorities in Cairo renewed the prison sentence of Abelaziz and his colleagues for an extended 45 days. The periodic renewal of 15-to-45 days is a widely known tactic often used by the Egyptian regime.

El-Sheikh has been behind bars for the past 20 months following his arrest in 2021, when he travelled to Cairo for a family visit and Ibrahim was arrested in Alexandria in 2020.

Meanwhile in May last year, an Egyptian court sentenced Doha-based Al Jazeera presenter Ahmed Taha to 15 years in prison in absentia.

Taha was sentenced over claims of “spreading false news” during an interview with Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a leading opposition figure and former 2018 presidential candidate.

The Qatar-based network has urged Egyptian authorities to release its journalists as rights groups and Washington echo concerns over the prolonged detainments without trial.

In a previous statement, Al Jazeera revealed that Ibrahim was subjected to “enforced disappearance, torture, and solitary confinement, while being blindfolded and handcuffed.”

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Egypt is one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists, with many spending years in jail and solitary confinement without being formally charged or tried.

Egypt’s extensions of the journalists comes despite rapprochement between Doha and Cairo following the 2017 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.

Shutting down its landmark Al Jazeera network was among a list of 13 demands presented by the quartet in exchange for the lifting of the embargo. However, Qatar rejected all 13 conditions.

Ties between Doha and Cairo picked up shortly after the signing of the Al Ula Declaration in 2021 and Al Jazeera resumed its broadcasts from Egypt months later.

The network’s bureau in Egypt was shut down in September 2013 as Al Jazeera rallied to provide in-depth reporting on scenes in Cairo at the height of the 2011 Arab Spring.

Al Jazeera has been subjected to violations of media freedom 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.