At least 24 journalists are currently behind bars in Egypt.
An Egyptian court has renewed the detention of Al Jazeera journalists Hisham Abdelaziz and Bahauddin Ibrahim, extending their imprisonment to three years without being charged, Al Jazeera reported on Thursday.
The development came just a day after the Qatari network called for the “immediate release” of all of its journalists who remain behind bars in Egypt.
While Ibrahim was arrested in Alexandria in 2020, Abdelaziz was arrested in 2019 and was subjected to enforced disappearance for almost a month.
Both journalists were accused of “joining a banned group” and “spreading false information”, accusations often used by the regime in Cairo to crack down on journalists and political dissidents.
In its statement on Wednesday, Al Jazeera revealed that Ibrahim has been subjected to “enforced disappearance, torture, and solitary confinement, while being blindfolded and handcuffed.”
“He [Ibrahim] is also suffering from severe back pain due to a chronic crooked spine.
“Al Jazeera Media Network expresses grave concern for Ibrahim’s safety and the safety of his colleagues Hisham Abdelaziz and Rabie el-Sheikh,” the statement added.
The network also urged international human rights organisations to stand in solidarity with its journalists “by all means necessary and demand their immediate release.”
Meanwhile, another Al Jazeera journalist, Rabie El-Sheikh remains in Egyptian prison following his arrest in 2021.
In August, authorities in Egypt renewed El-Sheikh’s detention for 45 days, a periodic renewal that has been a widely known tactic often used by the Egyptian regime. The period varies between 15-to-45 days.
In May last year, an Egyptian court sentenced Doha-based Al Jazeera presenter Ahmed Taha to 15 years in prison in absentia.
Taha was sentenced over claims of “spreading false news” during an interview with Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a leading opposition figure and former presidential candidate in 2018.
Ongoing imprisonment post Al-Ula
The prolonged imprisonment of Al Jazeera journalists comes despite the resumption of ties between Qatar and Egypt following the 2017 diplomatic rift.
At the time, Egypt joined Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain in imposing an illegal air, land and sea blockade on Qatar. The quartet accused Qatar of supporting terrorism – a claim that the Gulf state has consistently denied and slammed as baseless.
Shutting down Al Jazeera was among the 13 demands presented by the four countries in order to lift the embargo. However, Qatar rejected all 13 demands.
Since ties resumed in 2021 under the Al-Ula Declaration, Al Jazeera has resumed broadcast in Cairo. However, the Abdel Fattah El-Sisi government has continued its imprisonment and torture of press members.
In June last year, Reporters Without Borders said the four journalists’ “real crime” was working for Al Jazeera Media Network, which has continued to face a crackdown by Egyptian authorities.
During the same year, Egypt’s Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) decided to release Al Jazeera journalist Ahmed Al-Najdi, who was arrested in 2020.
While Al-Najdi’s release coincided with Sisi’s visit to Doha, it remained unclear whether the matter was on the agenda during a meeting with Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
Sisi’s visit in 2020 was his first to the Gulf state and also the first since the 2013 military coup that saw him seize power from then-leader Mohamed Morsi—Egypt’s first democratically elected leader.
Notably, Al Jazeera’s bureau was shut down during the coup in September 2013.
At the height of the Arab Spring in 2011, Al Jazeera provided in depth reporting on the ground in Cairo and other capitals across the region where large scale pro-democracy protests triggered a backlash from several regimes.
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Egypt is one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists, with many spending years in jail and solitary confinement without being formally charged or tried.
The regime has left little breathing space for the press with the introduction of cyber-crime and media laws that grant the government the ability to imprison journalists and control the media.
According to data from RSF, up to 24 journalists are currently behind bars in Egypt.