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Egypt: Detained Al Jazeera journalist 'on verge of losing eyesight'

Hisham Abdel Aziz is currently held in Egypt’s notorious Tora prison in Cairo where activists fear he could lose his eyesight due to a previously diagnosed medical condition
The Al Jazeera Mubasher journalist was detained while going to Egypt on a family holiday in 2019 (Screengrab/Twitter)

The wife of a detained Egyptian journalist Hisham Abdel Aziz has raised concerns over her husband’s deteriorating health condition while he languished in Egypt’s notorious Tora prison.

Abdel Aziz, a journalist at Al Jazeera Mubasher, was arrested on 20 June 2019 at Cairo International Airport, according to the London-based Arab Organisation for Human Rights (AOHR).

The father of three was on an annual holiday to Egypt where he was interrogated and had his personal belongings searched at the airport. He was later called into the National Security headquarters, where he was forcibly disappeared and later spent 15 days in solitary confinement. 

He was later transferred to the 5th District State Prosecutor’s Office, where he spent three days with no access to food or water, and pressured to sign papers that falsely accused him.

According to the AOHR, Abdel Aziz was accused of belonging to a banned group, and remained in custody until December 2019. After a decision to release him was issued on a 20,000 Egyptian pound ($1275) bail, he went missing again and reappeared in the Tora prison where he faced new allegations. 

Samira el-Taher, Abdel Aziz’s wife, took to Twitter to share that her husband wrote that he may no longer be able to write her letters due to his deteriorating eyesight. 

Translation: How valuable is a prisoner’s message to his lover? He wrote his letters lovingly and ended it with ‘this may be my last message, as my eyes no longer distinguish the letters’

In another tweet posted earlier this week, el-Taher describes how difficult it has been for her and her family while her husband remains behind bars.

“No one knows how it’s like to live as the children or wife of a detained person. They turn into a mere number on a waiting list, while their sentences get infinitely renewed…” 

Eye surgeries

Prior to his arrest, Abdel Aziz had undergone two operations on his right eye as he suffers from glaucoma. 

Medical records seen by Middle East Eye, dated 2019, issued by the Doha Clinic Hospital, detail Abdel Aziz’s medical condition. 

The report, signed by an ophthalmologist consultant, states that Abdel Aziz has previously undergone an operation for his eye and needs medical care for his condition. 

The regional director of the AOHR, Mustafa Azab, told Al Jazeera Mubasher that pretrial detention in Egypt has turned into a form of punishment. 

“In Hisham’s case, his detention has been renewed despite not being presented in front of the judiciary. He goes from prison and is placed in a box, not appearing in front of a judge, yet has his detention automatically renewed,” he said. 

The Egyptian rights group, We Record, also highlighted Abdel Aziz’s condition and has called for his immediate release due to his deteriorating health. 

Translation: We Record has documented the deterioration of the health of the Al Jazeera Mubasher journalist Hisham Abdel Aziz while in the Tora prison cell. According to medical reports we have seen, he suffers from glaucoma and increased pressure in his eyes. In the event that he does not receive his necessary treatment, the pressure will increase completely. 

On social media, the hashtags "Free Hisham" and "Freedom for Hisham Abdel Aziz" have been used to share details of his condition and demand his immediate release. 

An online petition, launched last month states that Abdel Aziz had been detained for over 600 days. 

The petition also raises fears that if Abdel Aziz does not receive medical attention soon, he could lose his eyesight as he already struggles to see his fingers.

Crackdown on journalists

Earlier this year, a UN rights expert condemned Egypt for targeting journalists, human rights defenders and their families, and called on authorities to stop silencing dissent and shrinking civic space in the country.

US urged to cut military aid to Egypt amid worsening crackdown on dissent
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Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said in a statement that she was "extremely concerned by the seemingly unrelenting efforts of the Egyptian authorities to silence dissent... despite repeated calls from UN mechanisms and the international community".

"These individuals should never have been targeted for their human rights activities in the first place, and so I repeat calls for the Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all detained human rights defenders, journalists, civil society actors and their family members."

Egypt has embarked on a brutal crackdown on dissent since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power in 2014, jailing more than 60,000 critics and imposing strict censorship measures on public discourse.

Sisi has consistently denied that there are political prisoners in Egypt, framing the crackdown as part of a fight against terrorism. 

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