Egypt releases news editor after two years in pretrial detention

Adel Sabri was arrested in April 2018 after his news website's critical coverage of Egypt's presidential elections.

    Egypt releases news editor after two years in pretrial detention
    Journalists and activists protest against the restriction of press freedom and to demand the release of detained journalists in Cairo [File: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters]

    Egyptian authorities have released the editor of an independent news website after more than two years in pretrial detention. 

    Adel Sabri, editor of the Masr al-Arabia website, was freed late on Monday, after he had been held for the maximum pretrial detention period under the law, Diaa Rashwan, the head of the Journalists' Syndicate, said.

    Sabri, who arrived at his home in Cairo in a police vehicle, was released pending an investigation into accusations that include disseminating false news and joining an outlawed group, Rashwan said.

    The website reported Sabri's release, saying it came a few days before the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

    Sabri was arrested in April 2018 after his website published an Arabic translation of a New York Times report, which said voters in Egypt's presidential elections at the time were offered cash, food and promises of better services in exchange for voting.

    According to Masr al-Arabia, Sabri had been charged with operating a website without a local license.

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    But fellow journalists told Al Jazeera at the time that Sabri was targeted for the website's criticism of state authorities and its coverage of the 2018 elections, which saw President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi overwhelmingly win a second, four-year term in office.

    In that vote, el-Sisi ran virtually unopposed after a string of potentially strong candidates had been arrested or pressured into withdrawing.

    'Third-worst jailer'

    Last year, Egypt approved constitutional amendments allowing el-Sisi, a general turned president, to stay in power possibly until 2030. The move has drawn criticism from rights groups and pro-democracy voices.

    El-Sisi has waged the heaviest crackdown on dissent in the country's modern history. Unauthorised protests have been outlawed, thousands of prominent activists have been jailed, critics silenced and hundreds of independent websites blocked.

    In May, the Committee to Protect Journalists documented the arrests of at least four Egyptian journalists, including Sameh Haneen, a Coptic Christian who faces charges of joining a "terrorist" organisation.

    The interior ministry later published video footage of an alleged confession by Haneen, in which he claimed he had been paid thousands of dollars for producing videos critical of the government for Al Jazeera at the request of members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

    Last week, Egyptian journalist Mohamed Monir, 65, died after contracting the coronavirus during the two weeks he spent in pretrial detention at Cairo's notorious Tora prison.

    The veteran journalist was arrested in June on charges of joining "a terrorist group", spreading false news, and misusing social media after appearing on the Al Jazeera Media Network, which is banned by Egypt.

    Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein has spent more than 1,300 days in prison without trial. An Egyptian national, Hussein was arrested in December 2016 on "dubious charges", according to HRW, shortly after his arrival in Egypt on a personal visit.

    Last year, an Egyptian court rejected an order by the state prosecutor to release him. He remains detained in Tora prison, one of Egypt's most infamous facilities, under inhumane conditions.

    The CPJ has ranked Egypt the third-worst jailer of journalists, after China and Turkey.

    Reporters Without Borders ranks the country 166th out of 180 countries in its press freedom index.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies