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Al-Jazeera journalist returns home after four years in Egypt prison

The 54-year-old Egyptian national was released on Thursday [Getty]

Date of publication: 6 February, 2021

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Mahmoud Hussein was detained at Cairo airport in 2016 when he arrived on a family vacation from Doha. On Saturday, he returned to his home after spending four years imprisoned.
Mahmoud Hussein, a journalist for the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, arrived at his home in greater Cairo on Saturday after four years in an Egyptian jail, an AFP journalist reported, amid thawing relations between the countries.

The 54-year-old Egyptian national was released on Thursday from a Cairo prison, a security source and his daughter Azzahra Hussein confirmed to AFP, but bail conditions at a police station in southern Cairo were still being finalised.

"His father died before witnessing this moment, he was waiting for it for a long time," Hussein's mother told AFP before her son's arrival. 

She was surrounded by throngs of relatives, and supporters had set up colourful lights to celebrate Hussein's return.

"Even though there are bail conditions... Dad is out of the police station, thank God. Freedom to all those oppressed," his other daughter based in Paris, Aya Hussein, said on Twitter.

There had been repeated calls for the journalist's release, including from human rights watchdog Amnesty International, after a Cairo prosecutor in May 2019 ordered he be freed from jail.

But a week later, Egypt's Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) slapped him with another set of charges and re-ordered his detention.

Hussein's release comes just over two weeks after Egypt and Qatar restored diplomatic ties, following a three-year Saudi-led blockade on Doha which saw the two countries, along with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, sever relations with Doha, with a particular focus on Al Jazeera's coverage.

"Al Jazeera Media Network welcomes the news of Mahmoud's freedom, and believes that no journalist should ever be subjected to what Mahmoud has suffered for the past four years for merely carrying out his profession," the Doha-based network said in a statement Saturday.

Al Jazeera was caught up in a political rift between Cairo and Doha following the 2013 military ouster of Egypt's Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who was backed by Qatar.

Cairo considered Al Jazeera a mouthpiece for Morsi's outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group, and access to its website has been blocked in Egypt since 2017.

Shortly after Morsi's ouster, authorities arrested three Al Jazeera journalists, including an Egyptian-Canadian and an Australian, provoking wide international condemnation. 

Read also: Qatar denies 'pledge' to change Al Jazeera's Egypt policy

The three journalists, who faced accusations similar to those levelled against Hussein, were freed in 2015.

Australian journalist Peter Greste was deported and the two others were released after receiving pardons from President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Rights groups regularly accuse Sisi's regime of crushing all forms of dissent and repressing political opponents. 

Under his rule, authorities have jailed thousands of Morsi's Islamist supporters as well as liberal and secular activists, including popular bloggers, actors, singers and journalists.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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