Journalist Mahmoud Hussein has been behind bars for 1000 days now with no charge, trial or conviction. I call on #Egypt to #FreeMahmoud and all other journalists in jail! #PressEgypt #JournalismIsNotACrime
1000 Days Behind Bars: IPI Renews Calls for Immediate Release of Jailed Egyptian Journalist Mahmoud Hussein
No formal charges. No trial. No conviction. Yet this Monday, September 16, jailed Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein will complete 1,000 days behind bars in Egypt.
The Qatar-based Egyptian national is among three dozen journalists arbitrarily detained by the government of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, whose country is among the world’s biggest prisons for journalists.
For over two-and-a-half years now, Hussein’s detention in Cairo’s notorious Tora prison has been repeatedly and illegally extended by the government, which has accused him of broadcasting “fake news” and “defaming” state institutions.
As no charges were ever formally brought against him, his pre-trial detention period is now in violation of the 730 dayspermitted under the Egyptian penal code, and in clear breach of international law.
During his time in jail, Hussein has been held for long periods in solitary confinement, forced to share cells with convicted murderers, and systematically denied his legal rights. Hussein was deniedproper medical treatment in prison when he broke his arm in 2017.
His family and colleagues say he is suffering both physically and psychologically and has had to wait long periods for medical treatment. He has also been subjected to a smear campaign in Egyptian media portraying him as a foreign spy and a terrorist.
The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded in January 2018 that the conditions of his imprisonment amounted to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”.
IPI has repeatedly called on the government of al-Sisi to respect international law and basic human rights and release Hussein. The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has also raised the issue of Hussein’s imprisonment with the Egyptian government.
“Mahmoud Hussein should never have spent a single day behind bars, let alone 1000”, IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said. “The repeated extension of his already illegal imprisonment is a stain on the record of the al-Sisi government. We demand his immediate and unconditional release, so that he can be reunited with his family and return to his profession.”
“Until Hussein and other journalists like him held under similarly farcical and unjust pretences are released, the Egyptian regime will continue to be considered one of the worst abusers of human rights in the world.”
Hussein, a father of nine, has over 30 years of experience working in Egyptian broadcasters and Arabic-language news channels.
After many years of freelance work with Al Jazeera, Hussein joined the company full time in 2010 as a Cairo correspondent, covering the 2011 revolution, the uprising against Hosni Mubarak, the election of Mohamed Morsi, and his eventual ousting by the military under the command of future president al-Sisi.
Hussein was originally arrested by Egyptian authorities upon his arrival in Cairo on a trip to visit family on December 20, 2016. He was interrogated for over 14 hours without a lawyer present, before being released and then arrested again days later.
Five days later, Egypt’s interior ministry publicly accused him of “disseminating false news and receiving monetary funds from foreign authorities in order to defame the state’s reputation”.
Since then, Hussein’s detention has been extended more than a dozen times.
Most recently, in May this year a decision to release him under “precautionary measures” was controversially overturned at the last minute.
Earlier that week an Egyptian court had upheld a May 21 decision to release him under “precautionary measures” which would have freed him from jail, while retaining some restrictions on his movement.
In preparation for his imminent release, he had been transferred from Cairo’s Tora prison to a holding cell in Giza, where his final clearance would be approved by the National Security Agency’s office.
However, in the middle of the proceedings, as his family waited outside to greet him, Hussein was suddenly transferred to the office of the prosecutor for state security and then sent back to jail.
Authorities announced that a new investigation had been opened against him and he was taken back to Tora prison in the capital, with no other details or reason given for yet another extension of his detention.
Missed by a big family
Hussein’s oldest daughter, Aya Mahmoud Hussein, is angry and disappointed at the way Egypt has treated her father and his family. In a recent interview with the International Press Institute (IPI), she described her father as someone who brought his children up to love their home country.
“So when my dad was portrayed as a terrorist on national TV, I just felt so angry”, she said. “How can you describe a guy who is so loving and caring as being a terrorist?”
Hussein’s family has suffered as a result of his detention. As part of the smear campaign depicting Hussein as an enemy of the state, Egyptian media also circulated pictures and information about his family and children. Hussein’s younger children have been confronted in school and asked about their father’s being a “terrorist”. His second oldest daughter, Zahra Mahmoud Hussein, was fired from her job as a trainee reporter at a TV channel after her boss found out who her father was. Zahra has now put aside her dream to follow in her father’s footsteps as a journalist and instead taken over his role as family caretaker.
Poor prison conditions
Hussein’s children fear for their father’s health. For the first three months after his arrest, Hussein was kept in solitary confinement, locked in a smelly cell that was crawling with insects. He was not allowed to speak to anyone.
Since then, he has lost a substantial amount of weight due to poor food quality and is suffering both physically and psychologically, his family and colleagues say. In summer 2017, Hussein had to wait 72 hours for medical attention after breaking his arm in a fall. Though the arm was poorly casted and the pain worsened, Hussein was denied surgery and a casting change.
Hussein currently shares a cell with three other inmates, all of whom were convicted or arrested for crimes such as murder. He is allowed to have visitors once a week. Aya Mahmoud Hussein, who studies in France, visited her father twice last Christmas.
“It was very depressing to see him in a prisoner’s outfit”, she said. “That is not what my father should be wearing. I knew that [prison] was not where I should be meeting my father.”
Fight for justice
Aya Mahmoud Hussein said it hurts to have to turn to the international community for help.
First, she believes that Egypt should respect its own citizens. And she insists that journalists should not pay the price of the ongoing conflict between Egypt and Qatar. Over the past few years, the Egyptian government has specifically targeted the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, accusing the outlet of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt considers to be a terrorist organization. Egyptian authorities have expelled Al Jazeera from the country and arrested its journalists while government supporters have attacked the company’s local offices. In 2016, an Egyptian court sentenced Al Jazeera Arabic’s editor-in-chief, Ibrahim Helal, to death in absentia.
Second, Aya Mahmoud Hussein regrets having to ask other countries to stand against her own, a place her father taught her to love.
“I want the relationship between my country and all the other countries to be very good”, she said.
“However, I would like to see pressure on my country to ensure justice for my father and for anyone who has been detained for that long in pre-trial detention without any clear charges, which is the case for many Egyptians.”