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(Beirut) – Egyptian journalist Mahmoud Hussein marks one year in pretrial detention without proper due process on December 22, 2017, Human Rights Watch said today.

Egyptian journalist Mahmoud Hussein marks one year in pretrial detention without proper due process on December 22, 2017. © Private

Egyptian authorities arrested Hussein, a Doha-based Al Jazeera TV journalist, on December 22, 2016, two days after he arrived for holidays in Egypt, his daughter, Aya Gomaa, told Human Rights Watch. State Security prosecutors ordered him detained on charges of “incitement against state institutions and broadcasting false news with the aim of spreading chaos.”

“Mahmoud Hussein languishing for over a year in pretrial detention demonstrates Egypt’s deep-rooted intolerance for free expression as well as the unlawful use of pretrial detention as a punishment,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch. “Everyone is entitled to due process, and no one should be imprisoned for being a journalist.”

National Security Agency (NSA) officers interrogated Hussein for more than 15 hours upon his arrival at Cairo International Airport on December 20, 2016, and then released him but kept his passport, Gomaa told Human Rights Watch. Two days later, December 22, 2016, NSA officers called him and told him to retrieve his passport that morning. His phone was shut off at 11 a.m. He was not heard from again until 10 p.m., when he showed up at his family’s home in handcuffs accompanied by NSA agents, who then proceeded to destroy private belongings in the home and arrest his two brothers. His brothers were released 11 days later.

Hussein is being held in Tora Prison in Cairo. Egypt’s judiciary has regularly renewed Hussein’s pretrial detention since his arrest, most recently on December 14 for 45 more days. His family is allowed weekly visits, Gomaa told Human Rights Watch.

Hussein’s colleagues at Aljazeera said he returned to Egypt to visit his family and not for work. He had worked for Al Jazeera Mubasher Masr, the Egyptian affiliate of Doha-based Al Jazeera, whose Cairo bureau was raided and closed down in July 2013 after the military led the forcible overthrow of then-president Mohamed Morsy. Al Jazeera then suspended broadcasting on its Egyptian affiliate station in December 2014 until it could obtain the “the necessary permits.”

Its operations remain suspended and Al Jazeera Mubasher, a separate Arabic affiliate, now transmits on its frequencies. Hussein was working with Al Jazeera Mubasher at the time of his arrest. In 2017, Al Jazeera has faced closures of its English channels’ bureaus in several countries after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar.

Egyptian authorities have arrested other Al Jazeera journalists. They include the former Al Jazeera English Cairo bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, and Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed, all of whom, while released, had faced multi-year sentences without any credible evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Since President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi came to office in 2014, Egypt has quickly become one of the worst jailers of journalists, ranking among the top three countries in the world with the most journalists in jail in 2017, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). More than half of the 20 journalists who remain in jails in Egypt are in poor health, the organization said. The government maintains highly restrictive policies toward government critics and has recently put in place media-monitoring bodies that effectively censor all forms of print and television outlets. Over 425 websites, most dedicated to news and politics, are banned in Egypt.

Under Egyptian law, prosecutors have broad powers – in violation of international law – to hold those suspected of committing major offenses, including political and national security crimes, in pretrial detention for up to five months without regular judicial review. Judges can extend the detention for up to two years without proper hearings or any substantive justification from prosecutors. Hundreds of prisoners who spent months in pretrial detention, without due process, were later released or acquitted.

“Egypt’s track record for jailing journalists and keeping detainees in pretrial detention grows more deplorable every year. Regardless of whether they intend to move ahead with charges, authorities should release Hussein from pretrial detention,” Whitson said.

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