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Egypt releases journalist jailed since 2015

Ismail Alexandrani was imprisoned on charges of publishing military secrets and belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood
According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, the total number of political prisoners in Egypt in March 2021 was 65,000.
According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, the total number of political prisoners in Egypt in March 2021 was 65,000 (AFP/File photo)

Egypt released on Monday jailed security expert and journalist Ismail Alexandrani after his 10-year sentence was commuted in October, according to his lead defence lawyer, Khaled Ali.

"Thank God, Ismail Alexandrani has been released. He is now free," Ali, a prominent rights advocate and former presidential candidate, wrote in a Facebook post on Monday.

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Alexandrani is an expert on militant movements in Egypt's Sinai peninsula and was accused of publishing military secrets and belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been outlawed in Egypt. His supporters, however, have argued that the journalist's writings were critical of the Muslim Brotherhood.

He was imprisoned in pretrial detention in 2015 and in 2018 was handed a ten-year prison sentence. 

In October, his sentence was commuted to seven years. His incarceration had become a symbol of Cairo's repression of academics.

Alexandrani was known for his anti-government writings and for criticising the military's role in Egyptian politics. He was a contributor to several publications including the French online magazine Orient XXI.

Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country, draws regular criticism over its rights record and imprisonment of journalists, academics, and dissidents. The country is ranked 168th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2022 World Press Freedom Index.

Egypt's political prisoners

Despite recent presidential pardons and the release of several high-profile dissidents, the moves have been met with scepticism.

A total of 766 political prisoners have been released since April this year, though close to double that number have been arrested over the same period, according to data compiled by Amnesty International.

According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, the total number of prisoners in Egypt in March 2021 was 120,000, with an estimated 65,000 political prisoners - at least 26,000 of them held in pre-trial detention. 

There is no official tally of the number of political prisoners, and Sisi denies holding any dissidents in jail. 

Many of those who are arbitrarily detained are subjected to enforced disappearances, which has become a "systematic practice" under Sisi's rule, according to the Committee for Justice.

Meanwhile, rights groups have accused authorities of maintaining a policy of medical negligence, torture and ill-treatment of political prisoners, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of people since 2013.

Alaa Abd el-Fattah, a leading figure in the 2011 Egyptian revolution, was sentenced to five years in prison in December 2019 on charges of "spreading false news". He has spent eight of the past 10 years in jail on various charges.

He had been on hunger strike for seven months this year, protesting his imprisonment. However, his family announced last month that he was ending the strike.

Following their first visit since he ended the hunger strike, Abd el-Fattah's family said that his health had deteriorated drastically in the past month.

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