After more than 18 months in detention, Egypt has freed prominent dissident journalist and politician Khaled Dawoud.
A former head of the liberal opposition Al-Doustor Party and a senior journalist for the English edition of state newspaper Al Ahram, Dawoud was arrested in September 2019 as part of a tough crackdown by Egyptian security forces amid rare anti-government protests.
“At around 5pm on Monday, a police official informed us that the prosecutor had decided to release him,” said Hisham Younes, a member of Egypt’s press club, on Tuesday.
“He got out at around midnight… No charges were brought against him.”
Lawyer and rights activist Khaled Ali said on Facebook the prosecution “decided to free” Dawoud.
“Khaled left prison and was taken to state security. He retrieved his car and went home, where he is now with his family,” Ali wrote.
Dawoud, who is an adjunct professor of journalism at the American University of Cairo, was arrested when a wave of protests sent shockwaves through Egypt as demonstrators called for the removal of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
The vocal critic was accused of “collaborating with a terrorist organisation”, “publishing false information”, and “misusing social media” – charges often levelled against dissidents.
Among the nearly 2,000 people arrested was Hassan Nafaa, a political science professor at Cairo University and well-known columnist who called for the president’s departure.
This year, Egyptian authorities released another journalist, Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Hussein, who had been in jail for more than four years without charges or trial. The 54-year-old was arrested in Cairo on December 23, 2016, while visiting his family for a holiday.
Since leading the military’s overthrow of democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, el-Sisi has overseen a broad crackdown against any dissent.
While members of the Muslim Brotherhood – which included Morsi – were the main target of the heavy-handed approach, arrests extended well beyond the group. Civil rights activists, journalists, lawyers, academics and actors have also been targeted.
In a rare criticism of the Middle Eastern country, the United States recently joined Western countries urging Egypt to end prosecution of activists, journalists, and perceived political opponents under “counterterrorism” laws resulting in extended pre-trial detentions.
On that occasion, more than 31 countries signed a joint statement, the first since 2014, calling on the Egyptian government to lift curbs on freedom of expression and assembly.
An estimated 60,000 political prisoners are being held in Egyptian jails, according to rights groups, and the country is considered the world’s third-worst jailer of journalists, behind China and Turkey.
Egypt ranks 166th out of 188 countries on the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
El-Sisi has said there are no political prisoners in Egypt and stability and security are paramount.