An Egyptian journalist who was jailed on fake news charges died of COVID-19, raising fears that the virus is running rampant inside Egypt’s prisons.
Mohamed Monir, 65, contracted COVID-19 in pre-trial detention and was released after falling ill in custody, according to the rights group the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
He died in an isolation unit at a Cairo hospital.
Even brief detentions amid the COVID-19 pandemic can mean a death sentence, the CPJ said in a statement on Monday.
Diaa Rashwan, head of the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate, confirmed Monir’s death in a Facebook post, saying they were in touch during his final moments in the hospital.
Monir was arrested and taken to Cairo’s notorious Tora prison complex last month after appearing on Al Jazeera TV, a Qatari-owned channel banned by Egypt’s government.
In 2013, Egyptian authorities shut down the Al Jazeera network, accusing it of providing a platform to Egypt’s enemies, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood.
When Monir’s interview with Al Jazeera came to light, prosecutors detained him for two weeks on charges of spreading fake news, joining a terrorist group and misusing social media, his lawyer said at the time.
Political prisoners in Egypt can be held in pre-trial detention for years on these vague charges, often in what rights groups describe as unhealthy conditions without proper access to medical care.
Egypt’s interior ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Monir had diabetes and high blood pressure. Following his release from detention on July 02, his condition rapidly deteriorated and he said he had contracted coronavirus. Last week, Monir posted a video on Facebook that showed him struggling to breathe.
“I know if I go to the hospital I will never leave it,” he said. “I need oxygen … somebody help me, please do anything to help me. I am very tired.”
Since rising to power in 2013, general-turned-president Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi has intensified a clampdown on dissent, silencing critics and jailing thousands.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has ranked Egypt among the world’s worst jailers of journalists, along with Turkey and China.
Rights groups have repeatedly called on Sisi to release thousands of political prisoners vulnerable to an outbreak of COVID -19. But Egyptian authorities have only sought to further stamp out dissent, arresting journalists and doctors who criticise the government’s handling of the pandemic.
Egypt’s health ministry has recorded 82,070 infections and 3,858 fatalities – the highest death toll in the Arab world.
The activist Sanaa Seif, the sister of prominent political prisoner Alaa Abd El Fattah, was among those arrested last month on charges that she had spread fake news about the spread of coronavirus in Egyptian prisons. She, her mother and another sister had been raising the alarm over Abd El Fattah’s health and the lack of virus protection in prisons. (Source: The Guardian)