Egypt frees Al Jazeera reporter on hunger strike
CAIRO // An Al Jazeera journalist, who had been on hunger strike for more than four months to protest his prolonged detention without charges in Egypt, has been freed.
The mother, wife and brothers of 26-year-old Abdullah Elshamy met him with hugs and cheers as he walked out of a police station in a northern Cairo suburb.
Egypt’s prosecutor general had ordered his release, citing “health conditions”. Dozens of friends and supporters were also there to receive him after he spent 10 months in prison without charges.
Mr Elshamy, once a chubby young man, looked gaunt and frail, and sported a bushy beard as he left the police station in Nasr City still dressed in a prison uniform.
“I have won,” he told reporters, despite pressure from prison authorities to end his strike, including keeping him in solitary confinement. “I have lost 45 kilograms but I was certain that God will make me victorious.”
His family said they would take him to a hospital.
His detention, along with the trial of other Al Jazeera journalists, was related to the sweeping crackdown on Islamist supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi since the military overthrew him last year. Egyptian officials accused the network of supporting Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.
The Qatar-based network has denied the allegations.
Hours earlier, a Canadian-Egyptian journalist for Al Jazeera imprisoned in Egypt said he was hopeful that Mr Elshamy’s release on medical grounds would mean he too will be freed.
Mohammed Fahmy spoke from a private hospital where he had a medical checkup on his shoulder, an injury that’s worsened during his six-month imprisonment.
“We are very confident we are going to be next,” said Mr Fahmy as he stepped out of the prison car, handcuffed to a policeman. “We have rebuffed everything that they brought against us” during the trial.
Mr Fahmy and two other Al Jazeera English journalists are on trial for terrorism-related charges, the first such case against reporters in Egypt. The verdict in the trial that began in February is expected on Monday.
Mr Fahmy, a former producer for CNN and contributor to other Western media outlets, is accused of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, a charge he dismisses as baseless. The defendants also include Australian-award winning journalist Peter Greste and Baher Mohammed, another Egyptian reporter for the news network.
They are charged with providing a platform for the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi. The three have been imprisoned since December 29.
Six other Al Jazeera employees, including two Britons, are being tried in absentia.
The case has caused an outcry among journalists and rights groups, who say their prosecution was politicised and undermines freedom of expression in Egypt.
The prosecution was a reflection of the tension between Egyptian authorities and the network. The Egyptian government accuses Al Jazeera of being biased toward Islamists. The network denies the allegations against it and its detained staffers.
Mr Elshamy had been held since August without charges when he was swept up with other protesters following the violent dispersal of a pro-Morsi sit-in that left hundreds dead.
Al Jazeera released a statement before his expected release that said: “This is a relief rather than a cause for celebration. Abdullah has been through a terrible ordeal for over 10 months.”
The network also called for the release of the three other journalists on trial.
Mr Fahmy appeared upbeat in the hospital. He said he considered the case a “misunderstanding” and hoped authorities will not let the case continue to harm Egypt’s name.
Mr Fahmy has been the most outspoken against the charges throughout his trial. He has submitted letters to the court from prominent figures in Egypt, such as former Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, who oversaw the committee that drafted Egypt’s current constitution.
Mr Moussa wrote that Mr Fahmy was “known as competent, has integrity and is objective”.
Mr Fahmy has complained that medical negligence caused his shoulder to deteriorate. Authorities finally allowed him to seek private medical care while in custody.
On Tuesday, a new report showed that he would need surgery to fix a fractured bone.
* Associated Press
Updated: June 18, 2014 04:00 AM