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Founder of Egypt’s Juhayna Food Industries and his son released from prison

Safwan and Seif Thabet had been detained two years ago on charges of 'funding terrorism, undermining the national economy and joining an unlawful organisation'
Safwan Thabet (R) and his son Seif have been released by Egyptian authorities after spending two years in detention (Facebook)
Safwan Thabet (R) and his son Seif have been released by Egyptian authorities after spending two years in detention (Facebook)

The founder and former CEO of Juhayna Food Industries and his son were released from prison in Egypt on Saturday after about two years in detention, according to a judicial source and a family member.

The arrests of Safwan Thabet, 75, and Seif Thabet, 41, in 2020 had shaken Juhayna, a listed company that is the country’s largest dairy product and juice producer.

Safwan Thabet was detained in December 2020, with his son Seif joining him two months later on charges of "funding terrorism, undermining the national economy and joining an unlawful organisation".

The two were never convicted. Amnesty International reported in 2021 that authorities were holding the Thabets because of their refusal to cede assets to a state entity, an account confirmed by sources close to the family.

Amnesty International said that Safwan Thabet and his son were being held in solitary confinement at Scorpion prison in conditions that amounted to torture, due to their refusal to give up their shares in the firm to a military-owned business.

Safwan Thabet's wife, Bahira Elshawi, died in March 2022 after months of campaigning to release her jailed husband and son.

Elshawi's daughter, Mariam Thabet, announced her mother's passing on Twitter, after having previously warned about her deteriorating health brought about by chemotherapy.

Emotional plea

In 2021, Elshawi made an emotional video plea to Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, asking for the release of her husband and son over their abusive conditions.

After her video went viral, Elshawi was summoned by security services and accused of "spreading false news" and "joining a terrorist group".

The news of her death was met with messages of condolences online from activists and journalists.

Sisi's government, which came to power following a 2013 military coup, has been accused of overseeing the worst human rights crisis in Egypt's modern history. Over 60,000 political prisoners are estimated to languish in prison, many of whom have died in custody due to poor detention conditions or medical negligence. 

Sisi denies the country has any political prisoners and has justified his crackdown as part of an alleged "fight against terrorism".

But terror accusations have been consistently brought against a range of the president's peaceful critics, as well as powerful businessmen such as the Thabets.

The release comes shortly after Egypt obtained a rescue package from the International Monetary Fund under which the government pledged to be more supportive of the private sector.

There was no immediate official statement from authorities on the release. A member of the Thabet family told Reuters the two men were released from a police station and returned home, but said the family had no other information about why they were freed.

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