Friday marks 500 days since Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein was arrested by Egyptian authorities after returning to his home country for a holiday.
Hussein, an Egyptian national who was based in Qatar, was stopped, questioned and detained by authorities on December 20, 2016, after travelling to Cairo on annual leave.
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Five days after his initial arrest, Egypt’s interior ministry accused him of “disseminating false news and receiving monetary funds from foreign authorities in order to defame the state’s reputation”.
Since then, he has been put in solitary confinement and denied his legal rights. He has yet to be formally charged.
According to Egyptian law, the maximum time a person can be held for interrogation is two years. If Hussein remains imprisoned, he will reach that in December 2018.
His family says the journalist is in poor physical and psychological condition, and is being denied adequate treatment for ailments.
In a statement published on Friday, Al Jazeera renewed “its condemnation” of Hussein’s arrest and called “on all international human rights groups and media freedom organisations to continue in their support of Mahmoud’s release”.
The Qatar-based network also urged “all those concerned with media freedom to take an active part in denouncing his continued detention and to put pressure on the Egyptian authorities to release” Hussein.
At the time of his arrest, Sherif Mansour, of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said: “Egyptian authorities are waging a systematic campaign against Al Jazeera, consisting of arbitrary arrest, censorship, and systematic harassment.”
Human rights and press freedom groups have also condemned his ongoing detention.
Mostefa Souag, the acting director general of the Al Jazeera network, said there was overwhelming support for Al Jazeera in the face of the false charges levied against Hussein.
“Al Jazeera has been working tirelessly to keep this issue in the minds of people,” Souag said at a conference in the Ghanaian capital Accra marking World Press Freedom Day.
“Everybody condemns the Egyptian authorities for denying media freedoms, abusing the military and police’s powers by silencing those who might say anything against the government.
“Freedom of the media is completely curtailed in Egypt and what we’re witnessing might be the worst it’s ever been in its history.
“This kind of behaviour could have serious implications for the state of journalism in the Arab world’s largest country.”
Targeting of journalists
Hussein’s detention is the latest in a string of arrests by Egyptian authorities targeting the network’s staff in the country.
In May 2016, Ibrahim Helal, the former editor-in-chief of Al Jazeera Arabic, was sentenced to death in absentia for purportedly endangering national security.
Egypt also imprisoned Al Jazeera’s Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste on charges of spreading “false news” in a case that was widely condemned by international media outlets and politicians alike.
Mohamed and Fahmy spent 437 days in jail before being released, while Greste spent more than a year in prison.
The judge who sentenced the journalists said they were brought together “by the devil” to destabilise the country.