Jul 18, 2021 - World

Egypt releases journalists, activists after U.S. expresses human rights worries

Egyptian activist and journalist Esraa Abdel Fattah speaks on the phone
Egyptian activist and journalist Esraa Abdel Fattah speaks on the phone at her home after being released from prison on July 18. Photo: Mohamed El Raai/picture alliance via Getty Images

Egyptian authorities released three activists and three journalists on Sunday who have been kept in pre-trial detention for months, in some cases years, without trial, the Associated Press reports.

Why it matters: The authorities' release of the prisoners comes days after the U.S. expressed concern regarding human rights abuses in Egypt.

  • On July 14, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the U.S. is "concerned by continued detentions, indictments, and harassment of Egyptian civil society leaders, academics, and journalists."

The big picture: The investigations against the six prisoners are still ongoing, and they face charges of "disseminating false news and misuse of social media platforms to joining a terrorist group, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood," according to AP.

  • Esraa Abdel-Fattah, an activist and writer, was arrested in October 2019 after playing a "crucial role in the 2011 pro-democracy uprising."
  • Mahienour el-Masry is a prominent rights lawyer known for her "activism in labor movements," per AP.
  • Journalist Gamal al-Gamal was arrested earlier this year and was known for his columns criticizing President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's government, according to AP.
  • Journalists Mustafa el-Aasar and Moataz Wadnan were also released Sunday after being held in pre-trial detention since 2018.
  • Abdel-Nasser Ismail, "deputy head of the Socialist People’s Alliance Party," had been detained without trial for nearly two years, per AP.

State of play: Last week, Egyptian authorities indicted Hossam Bahgat, a leading investigative journalist and human rights advocate in Egypt, the Middle East Eye reports.

  • Bahgat, whose trial will start Sept. 7, faces charges related to his social media use, per Middle East Eye.
  • Price specifically referenced Bahgat's case at the press briefing, saying that "we have communicated to the Egyptian Government our strong belief that individuals such as Hossam Bahgat should not be targeted for expressing their views peacefully."
  • When asked about arms sales to Egypt, Price noted that President Biden has raised human rights issues with al-Sisi before and added that "human rights across the board is something we look at very closely" when making such decisions.
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