Rights groups told Doha News that the renewal of the journalists’ detainment is “as arbitrary as their arrest.”
Egyptian authorities extended the detention of two Al Jazeera Mubasher journalists for an additional 45 days on Monday, prompting criticism from rights groups who described the move as an “assault on free speech”.
The extension of journalists Rabee Al-Sheikh and Bahaa Al-Din Ibrahim’s imprisonment was made by a decision by the Cairo Criminal Court, the Qatar-based network reported.
“The Cairo Criminal Court renewed the detention of two fellow journalists, Bahaa Al-Din Ibrahim and Rabee Al-Sheikh, for a period of 45 days, pending investigations in Case No. 1365 of 2018, ‘Supreme State Security’,” Al Jazeera reported.
Al-Sheikh was detained at Cairo International Airport while visiting his family in 2021, and Ibrahim was separately arrested in 2020 when he was travelling back to Doha through the same facility.
Since the detainment of the two journalists, Egyptian authorities have periodically renewed their imprisonment for 15-to-45 days, a widely known tactic often used by the regime. Al Jazeera has warned the detention of both journalists has exceeded the pretrial period stipulated by Egyptian law.
Responding to the latest developments, activists and rights groups have denounced Egypt’s ongoing “arbitrary” imprisonment of journalists as well as its chokehold on free speech.
“The renewal of both journalists’ detention is as arbitrary as their arrest. We call upon Egyptian authorities to release them immediately,” Amr El Afifi, Research Manager at The Freedom Initiative, virtually told Doha News on Tuesday.
El Afifi added: “The targeting and detention of journalists in Egypt is part and parcel of the regime’s decade-long assault on free speech.”
Worrisome health conditions
Last week, Al Jazeera amplified its calls for the release of Ibrahim and Al-Sheikh and expressed grave concerns on their “distressing conditions” behind bars.
In a statement, the network said it held Egyptian authorities solely responsible for their deteriorating health. While both journalists suffer from chronic illnesses, their medical conditions remains unspecified.
“Their prison cells lack the most basic conditions of health and hygiene, posing a serious threat to their health and exacerbating the challenges of coping with their chronic illnesses. Al Jazeera holds the Egyptian authorities fully responsible for their health, safety, and wellbeing,” the statement added.
Al Jazeera also appealed to global press freedom bodies and human rights organisations to support its demands for “the immediate release” of its journalists.
The Egyptian regime is notoriously known for its disturbing record of violating press freedom and has been described by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) as “the world’s biggest prison for journalists”.
According to RSF, there are at least 18 journalists imprisoned in Egypt, out of which only six have been tried and convicted.
Most members of the press have been accused of “disseminating false news” or having alleged links to a “terrorist or banned organisation”.
“The long list of imprisoned journalists tallied by RSF is an important reminder of the reality of President Sisi’s ten-year-old reign. These journalists have no place in prison. We demand their immediate and unconditional release,” Jonathan Dagher, Head of RSF’s Middle East desk, said in June.
Al Jazeera has been subjected to notable violations since the 2013 military coup that saw current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi seize power from then-leader Mohamed Morsi—Egypt’s first democratically elected leader.
Also last week, the Cairo Criminal Court confirmed that journalists from the Qatar-based network were named on its revised terror list. Those included in the terror list are subject to travel bans, passport cancellations, and the freezing of assets, Al Jazeera said at the time, without identifying the journalists.
Responding to the list, the network called on Egyptian authorities to “reconsider and refrain from measures that impede journalistic work and restrict freedoms”.
Egypt’s ongoing violations against Al Jazeera journalists comes despite rapprochement between Doha and Cairo following a years-long 2017 diplomatic dispute.
At the time, Egypt joined Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain in severing ties with Qatar and imposed an illegal air, land and sea blockade on the Gulf state.