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Al Jazeera journalist detained in Egypt must be freed immediately, press group urges

A court in Egypt ordered Mahmoud Hussein's release last week, but he remains in jail, says International Press Institute
Mahmoud Hussein has been in Egyptian jail for nearly 900 days (social media)

A growing number of journalists and press freedom groups are urging Egypt to immediately release Al Jazeera reporter Mahmoud Hussein, who has been detained for nearly 900 days without charge.

The International Press Institute (IPI) on Monday said that while an Egyptian court ordered Hussein's release on 23 May, a decision that legally obligated Egypt to release him within 24 hours, the journalist remains detained.

An association of journalists, editors and media workers from nearly 100 countries around the world, IPI expressed "dismay" at the delay in Hussein's release.

"We urge to you ensure that your government respects the rule of law by immediately releasing Mahmoud Hussein. Press freedom is an essential element of a democratic society, which Egypt claims to be," said the group's executive director, Barbara Trionfi, in a letter to Egypt's foreign minister.

Hussein was detained in December 2016 and accused of "disseminating false news".

He was never formally charged, however, and the Egyptian authorities routinely extended his detention, IPI said.

In February, the United Nations called Hussein's imprisonment "arbitrary detention", and urged the Egyptian authorities to release him immediately.

Egypt set to release imprisoned Al Jazeera journalist
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"Hussein's detention was in violation of both Egyptian and international law, with the former setting 24 months as the maximum period for pre-trial detention," Al Jazeera said on its website on Thursday - the day Hussein was ordered released, which coincided with his 881st day in detention.

Hussein worked as an editor for Al Jazeera's Arabic station when he was detained.

His imprisonment was a move against the Qatar-based broadcaster, which Egypt accuses of supporting the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.

Hussein's planned release comes amid a spate of presidential pardons that have coincided with the ongoing Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Some 560 prisoners were pardoned last Thursday, among them political detainees linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and prominent journalist Abdel Halim Qandil, a founding member of the grassroots Kefaya movement that opposed former president Hosni Mubarak.

On Tuesday, Egypt's top prosecutor ordered the release of five prominent opposition figures - including former diplomat Masoum Marzouk - who have been detained since August after they called for a popular referendum on the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Human rights groups say at least 60,000 political prisoners have been detained in Egyptian jails since Sisi came to power in 2013 following a coup that toppled Morsi. Sisi denies that Egypt has any political prisoners.

The Egyptian authorities arrested three other Al Jazeera journalists in December 2013, sentencing them to between seven and 10 years in prison on charges that included "spreading lies to help a terrorist organisation".

One of the journalists was eventually deported from Egypt, and the two others were freed in 2015.