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Egyptian authorities release Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein

Al Jazeera Arabic journalist spent more than four years in detention without formal charges or trial
Hussein's release comes less than three weeks after the inauguration of US President Joe Biden.
Mahmoud Hussein's release comes less than three weeks after the inauguration of US President Joe Biden (AFP)

Egyptian authorities released Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein on Saturday, more than four years after he was detained on allegations of spreading false news and defaming Egypt's reputation, the Qatar-backed news network reported.

In a statement, Mostefa Souag, the acting director general of the network, said the release was "a moment of truth and an inspiring milestone towards press freedom".

"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."

Hussein, an Egyptian citizen based in Qatar, was detained at Cairo airport in December 2016 when he arrived in the country for a family vacation.

His detention, which Al Jazeera had listed as being 1,506 days, had surpassed the maximum period for pre-trial detention, violating both Egyptian and international law.

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Hussein's release comes less than three weeks after the inauguration of US President Joe Biden.

During the campaign trail, Biden issued a stern warning to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, saying if elected president there would be "no more blank checks for Trump's 'favourite dictator'."

Biden's tweet referred to Trump's remarks during that last year's G7 summit, when the president asked "where's my favourite dictator?".

The Egyptian government has cracked down heavily on any form of dissent since Sisi came to power in 2013 following a coup that toppled President Mohammed Morsi. At least 60,000 people have been imprisoned during the last seven years, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). 

Sisi denies that Egypt has any political prisoners.

Hussein was one of a number of Al Jazeera journalists swept into Egyptian prisons amid a crackdown on dissent and tensions with Qatar.

In 2013, Abdullah Elshamy, Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy were arrested and detained on charges of spreading "false news". All have since been released.

Other journalists have also been charged in absentia, including Ibrahim Helal, former editor-in-chief of Al Jazeera Arabic, who was sentenced to death in absentia for purportedly endangering national security.

According to a 2020 report by the Committee to Protest Journalists, Egyptian authorities, intensified their spree of arrests, charges and indefinite renewals of pre-trial detention, bringing the number of journalists in jail to 34, up from 31 the previous year.