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Egypt to free Al Jazeera journalist, lawyer says

05:52 15 September 2022 Author :  

Egypt has ordered the release of an Al Jazeera journalist held in pretrial detention, the Qatar-based network confirmed, as President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi concluded his trip to Doha on Wednesday.

The decision will see Al Jazeera Mubasher’s Ahmed al-Najdi, who has been detained since August 2020, freed from prison, his lawyer Samir al-Bagoury said.

The fate of his detained colleagues, Hisham Abdel Aziz, Bahauddin Ibrahim and Rabie el-Sheikh, remains unclear, though Al Jazeera confirmed they are being held in detention “without trial or charge”.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says Aziz was arrested in June 2019, while Ibrahim was detained in February 2020, and Al Sheikh in August 2021. Cairo accuses the reporters of the Qatar-based network of being members of a banned group” and “spreading false information”.

In August, Al Jazeera said the health of its journalist Al-Sheikh was declining after a year in solitary confinement in Egyptian detention, condemning Cairo's extension of his incarceration.

Responding to the news on social media, a member of the presidential pardon committee in Egypt said he welcomes “the Egyptian Public Prosecution’s decision to release the Al Jazeera journalists who are being held in pretrial detention”.

Egypt's human rights record is regularly condemned, with groups saying there are 60,000 political prisoners, many held on charges of "spreading false news".

Cairo, where at least 20 journalists are behind bars, currently ranks 168th out of 180 countries in the press freedom index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.

The announcement on Wednesday came as Sisi concluded his first official visit to Doha as president, following a similar trip by Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to Cairo in June.

Both visits signal the restoration of ties between the two countries following a major four-year political crisis in 2017 that saw Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain sever diplomatic ties with Qatar.

However, the crisis came to a head in 2021 with the signing of the Al Ula Declaration in Saudi Arabia./ Alaraby

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