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RSF amplifies demands for release of detained Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt

Last month, Egyptian authorities extended the detention of the two Al Jazeera journalists for an additional 45 days.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on Egyptian authorities to release of two Al Jazeera Mubasher journalists, echoing the demands of the Qatar-based network and other international rights organisations.

In a video shared by Al Jazeera on Friday, Jonathan Dagher, the head of RSF’s Middle East Desk, demanded the release of the journalists, Rabee Al Sheikh and Bahaa Al Din Ibrahim. 

“We demand the immediate release of the journalists detained in custody in ِEgypt […] their actual charge is their work with Al Jazeera Mubasher,” Dagher said in the video.

Egyptian authorities detained Al Sheikh at the Cairo International Airport while he was visiting his family in 2021, while Ibrahim was arrested in 2020 when he was travelling back to Doha through the same facility.

Cairo accused Ibrahim of spreading fake news and being affiliated with ‘terrorist organisations’, whereas Al Sheikh was accused of spreading fake news. Both journalists have remained behind bars without trial.

Egyptian authorities have periodically renewed the imprisonment period of the journalists for 15-to-45 days since their detention, a tactic widely used by the regime. 

Last month, Egyptian authorities extended the detention of the two Al Jazeera Mubasher journalists for an additional 45 days.

Activists and rights groups responded to the move at the time by denouncing Egypt’s ongoing “arbitrary” imprisonment of journalists as well as its chokehold on free speech.

“The renewal of both journalists’ detention is as arbitrary as their arrest. We call upon Egyptian authorities to release them immediately,” Amr El Afifi, Research Manager at The Freedom Initiative, told Doha News in August.

Al Jazeera has expressed its grave concerns on the “distressing conditions” of its journalists. In a statement, the network had said it held Egyptian authorities solely responsible for their deteriorating health, noting that both journalists suffer from chronic illnesses.

Notorious press prisoner

The Egyptian government has been described by RSF as “the world’s biggest prison for journalists”.

According to RSF, there are at least 18 journalists imprisoned in Egypt, out of which only six have been tried and convicted.

Al Jazeera has been subjected to notable 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.

In a controversial move, the Cairo Criminal Court named a number of Al Jazeera members on its revised terror list in July. Responding to the list, the network called on Egyptian authorities to “reconsider and refrain from measures that impede journalistic work and restrict freedoms”.

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

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.