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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Rights groups urge release of Egypt journalists after deaths in custody

The two journalists were arrested last month [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 September, 2020

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The Committee to Protect Journalists has called for the release of two jailed journalists, including one with Covid-19, after the deaths of four Egyptian inmates in three days.
The Committee to Protect Journalists urged Egypt on Friday to release two jailed journalists, including one with Covid-19, after Human Rights Watch said four inmates had died in Egyptian custody within 72 hours.

The CPJ, a New-York based press freedom advocacy group, called on authorities to immediately free Hany Greisha and El-Sayed Shehta, who were both arrested from their homes last month. 

They both worked at the private pro-government tabloid Youm 7.

The CPJ said Greisha was charged with spreading false news and joining a terror group, charges regularly invoked against dissidents, while it was unclear whether Shehta faces charges.

It said Shehta, who has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, is currently handcuffed to a hospital bed in the intensive care unit of a public hospital about an hour outside of Cairo.

"Egyptian authorities should be urgently releasing journalists from its prisons because of the Covid-19 pandemic," said Sherif Mansour, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa Coordinator.

"Instead, it is diligently rounding up more to throw in jail – including now one who was sick and in quarantine," he added.

Fearing the spread of the virus in overcrowded facilities, human rights groups have regularly highlighted poor prison conditions in Egypt and called for the release of political prisoners and detainees awaiting trial.

Surge in prisoner deaths

On Thursday, HRW reported the deaths of four detainees in various Egyptian jails within 72 hours.

They included Ahmed Abdelnabi Mahmoud, a 64-year-old  Egyptian man whose US-based family pleaded several times for his release because he suffered several chronic illnesses.

He died in Tora Maximum-Security Prison II in Cairo on September 2 after nearly two years in detention without trial, it said.

HRW also cited a report from the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms, a local rights group, saying three other detainees at different prisons died over the course of just two days, August 31 and September 1. 

The others who died were Sobhy al-Saqqa, in Borg al-Arab Alexandria Prison, Sha'ban Hussein Khaled in al-Fayoum General Prison and Abdelrahman Youssef Zawal in Tora Tahqiq Prison. 

"Detainees and prisoners keep dying in Egyptian custody despite frequent pleas for adequate health care," the rights group said in a Thursday statement.

"This reflects unacceptable negligence on the part of Egyptian prison authorities".

Last month, senior Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam El-Erian died in jail from a heart attack following an argument with a fellow inmate.

And earlier this year, Egypt faced international condemnation for the death in custody of 24-year-old film-maker Shady Habash.

According to several NGOs, an estimated 60,000 detainees in Egypt are political prisoners.

These include secular activists, journalists, lawyers, academics and Islamists arrested in an ongoing crackdown against dissent since the military's 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who himself died in jail last year.

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