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Egypt court overturns decision placing 296 people on 'terrorism' list

Supporters of Ola al-Qaradawi say they hope decision will lead to release of Qatar-based Islamic scholar's daughter
Ola al-Qaradawy, right, and her husband Hosam Khallaf have been held in solitary confinement in separate prisons since their detention in June 2017 (Twitter/@freeolaandhosam)

Egypt’s highest appeals court reversed a verdict to add more than 250 people - including prominent opposition figures - to a “terrorism list” that has been used to target political opponents of the Egyptian government, according to rights groups.

The decision opens the door to releasing dozens of political prisoners, including Ola al-Qaradwy, the daughter of Qatar-based Islamic scholar Youssed al-Qaradawi, and her husband Hosam Khallaf.

On 24 July 2017, the Cairo Criminal Court placed 296 people on the list for three years for a range of charges, including “forming a military wing for the Muslim Brotherhood” and "financing violent activities".

Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned such lists as “a mockery of due process” over suspects' inability to defend themselves adequately against being blacklisted.

The defendants removed from the list on Tuesday include senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders Ibrahim Mounir and Mahmoud Ezzat and former MP Gamal Heshmat.

Qaradawi and Khalaf, who are legal permanent residents in the US, were never brought to trial or presented with formal charges. Their family and supporters suspect that they have been detained unjustly since 2017 because of Cairo's feud with Doha.

The couple's daughter, Aayah Hosam, said with the removal from the list, there is no other reason they should remain in custody.

"If they don't let them go, then this would really confirm our belief that this is just a political decision because of the regional conflict," Hosam told MEE.

Hossam, who is a US citizen, has been lobbying American officials to push for the release of Qaradawi and Khalaf.

Late last year, 46 members of the US House of Representatives said in a letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that they "cannot ignore abuses of fundamental human rights" under Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's government.

The letter specifically noted the case of Qaradawi and Khalaf.

Hosam said she hoped that Pompeo raised the concerns with Egyptian authorities during his visit to Cairo last month.

Hosam vowed to continue her activism for her parents' release.

"We are hopeful that this is a start to seeing a change - a complete release for them soon," she said. "But if this doesn't happen we're going to continue talking with the US government at the highest level to keep intervening and keep pressuring Egypt to let them go."

The "Free Ola and Hosam" campaign welcomed the decision as "long overdue" and called for the couple's "unconditional release".

"No evidence has ever been presented before the courts against either Ola or Hosam ... The family calls on the prosecution's office to serve justice and reunite Ola and Hosam with their children, grandchildren and loved ones," the campaign said in a news release on Wednesday.