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Egypt frees long-held Al Jazeera journalist amid thaw with Qatar

The release of Hisham Abdelaziz comes as Egypt and Qatar are working to normalize their relations after years of tension, even as Cairo continues its crackdown on journalists.
 The Al Jazeera logo is seen in the new Al Jazeera America television broadcast studio on West 34th Street August 16, 2013 in New York as Paul Eedle (R), Deputy Launch Manager for Programing speaks to media during a tour. Al Jazeera America, which will launch on August 20, will have its headquarters in New York. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP via Getty Images)

Egyptian authorities released Al Jazeera journalist Hisham Abdelaziz, who had been held in pretrial detention for nearly four years, on Monday.

The Qatar-based Al Jazeera network announced the news of Abdelaziz’s release on its website. The journalist’s family also confirmed the release. His wife, Samira el-Taher, tweeted on Monday a picture of him, captioned “Hisham is on the ground, praise be to God.”

Abdelaziz, an Egyptian journalist working in Qatar for Al Jazeera’s Mubasher channel, was stopped at Cairo International Airport in June 2019 while traveling for a family visit and interrogated before disappearing. The journalist reappeared a few days later before the state prosecutor, who ordered him detained on charges of "belonging to a terrorist group and spreading fake news" — charges commonly slapped against government critics. 

Since 2019, Abdelaziz’s pretrial detention has been extended on multiple occasions, exceeding the legal two-year limit on detention without trial stated in Egyptian criminal law. Abdelaziz, 46, is a father of three children. 

Under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt has intensified its crackdown against any form dissent after the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013. Although there are no official numbers on how many people are currently in Egyptian prisons and detention centers, rights groups estimate that tens of thousands of activists and journalists have been arrested in the last decade, while some are held in pretrial detention on trumped-up charges. 

The Committee to Protect Journalists has put the current number of journalists jailed in Egypt at 21. Authorities have also imposed strict censorship on media and rights organizations, prompting a wave of international criticism.

The Qatar-funded Al Jazeera was one of the main targets of Egyptian authorities in light of tensions between Cairo and Doha over the latter’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood. According to the network, two of its journalists, Bahaa Eldin Ibrahim and Rabie el-Sheikh, remain in detention in Egypt. In 2013, Egyptian authorities shut down Al Jazeera’s office in Cairo and blocked the channel in 2017 along with 20 others for allegedly supporting terrorism and spreading false news.

The channel resumed operations in Egypt in July 2021, months after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt agreed to lift a blockade imposed on Doha in 2017. The Saudi-led bloc of nations had cut relations with Qatar over its ties to the Brotherhood and Iran.

Since the so-called al-Ula agreement was announced in January 2021, Egyptian-Qatari relations have steadily, albeit slowly, improved. The two countries exchanged ambassadors in 2021. Last September, Sisi headed to Doha for his first visit to the small Gulf nation since the 2017 rift. A number of trade deals were signed between the two countries during the visit. 

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