CAIRO: Prosecutors will release a hunger-striking journalist, Abdullah Elshamy, because of his deteriorating health, Egyptian state media said Monday, offering a concession on the treatment of one of more than 16,000 prisoners detained since the military takeover last summer.
Elshamy, 25, a journalist working for Al-Jazeera’s main Arabic-language network, was arrested Aug. 14, the day that soldiers and police used deadly force to break up the main Islamist protest against the takeover. (He recorded some of the victims among the Islamists.) He has been detained without charges since then, and his family said he had been on a hunger strike for more than four months. In photographs taken in prison, he appeared haggard, feeble and a fraction of his former size.
The news of his planned release came just a week after the inauguration of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, but there was no public indication of presidential involvement in the decision.
State media said prosecutors were releasing 11 others, who were not identified. But news reports indicated that the release did not include a prisoner who had joined Elshamy’s hunger strike: Mohamed Soltan, 26, a U.S. citizen who was also arrested in August. Soltan’s family says he is very frail and is in the prison hospital’s intensive care unit. Unlike Elshamy, Soltan has been charged, specifically with spreading false information and funding an unauthorized protest.
Soltan is not personally a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that backed President Mohammed Morsi and led opposition to the military takeover that ousted him. But he volunteered as a translator at the biggest protest against the takeover, because, he said at the time, he opposed the military removal of any elected president. His father is a prominent Brotherhood member.
In another case involving Al-Jazeera, a judge on Monday said he would rule next Monday on charges against three journalists for the network’s English-language channel. The three - Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, an Egyptian Canadian who has previously worked for CNN and The New York Times; Peter Greste, an Australian who previously worked for the BBC; and Baher Mohammed, an Egyptian who has worked for other international news organizations - have been jailed since December.
Prosecutors have accused the three journalists of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to broadcast false reports of civil strife in order to bring down Egypt’s military government. But the prosecutors have not publicly disclosed any evidence that the journalists either conspired with the Brotherhood or broadcast false news.
Al-Jazeera is the only major Arabic-language broadcaster sympathetic to the Brotherhood that is available in Egypt, and supporters of the current government often describe the network as a terrorist organization.