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Egypt court upholds release of blogger Wael Abbas, two others in 'false news' case

Wael Abbas, Walid el-Shobaky and Momen Hassan have been in custody since May
Egyptian blogger and human rights defender Wael Abbas (Facebook)

The Cairo criminal court has upheld a ruling to release blogger Wael Abbas, as well as that of University of Washington doctoral student Walid el-Shobaky and filmmaker Momen Hassan, rejecting an earlier appeal by the State Security prosecution against their release.

The three men have been in detention since 23 May over charges of spreading false news and joining a terrorist organisation.

On Saturday, the Giza criminal court ordered their release on probation terms that include registering at a police station twice a week - but the decision was immediately appealed by the state security prosecution.

Monday’s court decision to uphold the three defendant’s release was welcomed by their families and supporters as long overdue.

Abbas's sister, Rasha Abbas, said Wael was so overjoyed by the news that he could not eat during his family's most recent prison visit. 

Translation: He was very happy, to the extent that he did not eat with us. He usually has his breakfast with us when we visit him. But when he heard [the news] he was nervous and didn't know what to do. It was his extraordinary joy.

However, Rasha Abbas noted that it remained unclear when her brother and the two other men would be released from the infamous Tora prison where many political prisoners are held, as such a process in Egypt can often take days or weeks.

Translation: The procedures to release Wael Abbas will turn out to be long. He is still in Tora [prison]. Do not stop praying for him until they finish quickly and he gets released.

Award-winning Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, widely known as Shawkan, was sentenced to five years in prison in September for taking photos at protests - a sentence amounting to time served. Nearly three months on, however, he has yet to be released.

Abbas, 43, has been documenting torture and police brutality in Egypt through his blog and social media accounts since 2004, receiving many international awards for his work.

In 2017, Twitter suspended Abbas’s 350,000-follower account without specifying a reason why. The company has since been accused of “hypocrisy” over its decision, notably since it has decided not to suspend the account of American conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

Shobaky was arrested shortly after conducting an interview with University of Zagazig law professor Mohammed Farahat in connection with his research into judicial independence in Egypt. He was held incommunicado for four days without access to a lawyer.

The US-based Scholars at Risk network said Shobaky’s arrest was “in apparent retaliation for nonviolent expression and academic activity”.

The specific reasons behind Momen Hassan's arrest and the charges levied against the filmmaker were not immediately clear.

Case 441 includes several other defendants who are still in custody, including human rights lawyer Ezzat Ghoneim, who has been held incommunicado since 13 September.

Human Rights Watch said Ghoneim had been “forcibly disappeared” by Egyptian police despite a court order on 4 September to release him on probation.

The case also includes journalists Mostafa Al-Asar, Hassan al-Banan and Moataz Wadnan, according to Amnesty International.

Rights groups have documented at least 60,000 political prisoners in Egyptian jails since general-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi led a military coup against his democratically elected predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013.