Mahmoud Hussein, an Egyptian national and senior Al Jazeera Arabic journalist has now been detained for 1313 days for “disturbing public security and spreading false news” without any formal charges, trial or conviction. According to Egypt’s penal code, a maximum pretrial detention period of 620 days is permitted for individuals being investigated for a felony – as a result, Hussein’s incarnation is in violation of Egyptian law. His arrest has been condemned by international rights groups and media freedom organisations, as well as the United Nations.
Mahmoud Hussein moved to Doha, Qatar in 2013 after Egyptian authorities shut down Al Jazeera Media Network’s operations in Egypt. In December 2016 Mahmoud returned to Egypt to visit family. Shortly after his arrival in Cairo, he was arrested.
Mahmoud was held in solitary confinement for a period of three months following his arrest. During his time in prison he has suffered significant weight loss and sustained an injury which resulted in a fracture to his left elbow. Prison authorities have repeatedly refused to provide him with medical care. Moreover, despite Al Jazeera committing to cover all medical expenses prison authorities have also rejected his attorney’s request to refer him for private medical treatment. His family have expressed concerns that he is being mistreated.
Since his arrest, the Egyptian judiciary has continued to detain him without trial or any official charge by extending his detention every 45 days – in breach of his fundamental human rights. In February 2018 The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights ruled the detention of Mahmoud Hussein by Egyptian authorities as “arbitrary” stating that “appropriate remedy would be to release Mr Hussein immediately”.
On 23 May 2019, a court in Egypt rejected the appeal by the prosecutor to extend Mahmoud Hussein’s detention and ordered his release from prison. However, just a few days later, whilst being processed for release, Mahmoud was instead returned to Tora prison under unclear circumstances. The authorities opened a new investigation against him with unspecified charges – showing a clear disrespect for media freedom, human rights, as well as both the Egyptian constitution and international law. In fact, according to the International Press Institute (IPI), there are currently more than 60 journalists imprisoned in Egypt. This puts Egypt behind only Turkey and China, and on par with Saudi Arabia, as the world’s worst jailers of journalists. Reporters Without Borders ranked Egypt 168th out of 180 in its 2020 Press Freedom Index.
At the beginning of the Coronavirus outbreak in Egypt, Al Jazeera urged the Egyptian government on the 18th March to immediately release Hussein, citing deep concerns for his health. “Overcrowded Egyptian prisons are notoriously known for unhygienic conditions, which can potentially lead to a rapid spread of the coronavirus among prisoners” – Al Jazeera’s management said in a statement and added that “They would hold the Egyptian government fully responsible for the journalists’ wellbeing and safety”.
According to a report issued on 20th July by Human Rights Watch, at least 14 prisoners and detainees have died from likely COVID-19 complications in scantly-monitored outbreaks of the disease in at least ten Egyptian detention centres as of the 15th July. The report is based on witness accounts, leaked letters from prisons and reports by local rights groups. “Even though scores of prisoners and detainees, at a minimum, have shown mild to severe COVID-19 symptoms, prisons had insufficient medical care and virtually no access to testing for the virus or symptom screening,” Human Rights Watch said.
This report came just days after the death of 65 year old Egyptian journalist Mohamed Monir. Monir was arrested in June after appearing on Al Jazeera and contracted COVID-19 during pretrial detention. He was released, due to his sickness, on the 2nd July but died shortly after on the 13th July.
Mahmoud Hussein’s detention is in violation of his human rights, the Egyptian penal code and international law and he should be released immediately. Moreover the COVID-19 outbreak is exposing him to unacceptable health risks during his continued unlawful detention.
The Amman Centre for Human Rights Studies strongly condemns the unlawful imprisonment and abhorrent treatment of Mahmoud Hussein. It further supports the international rights groups, Al Jazeera and the UN who are calling for his immediate release.