Egypt has released an online comedian, a journalist and a political activist after they spent months in pre-trail detention, two lawyers said Monday.
It was the latest in a series of recent releases amid concerns by the United States and international rights groups over the arrest and harassment of rights advocates and critics of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s government.
Youtuber Shadi Srour, journalist Shaimaa Sami and activist Ziyad Aboel-Fadel walked free late Sunday from a police headquarters in Cairo, said the two lawyers, Khalid Ali and Ismael el-Rashedi.
Security forces had arrested Srour, who is also an actor, at Cairo International Airport in December 2019 upon his arrival from the U.S.
He became popular on YouTube for his satirical videos that attracted millions of viewers. In 2019, he posted a video titled “Enough el-Sissi” in which he endorsed calls made by the self-exiled Egyptian businessman Mohamed Ali for people to rise up and rebel against the president.
Aboel-Fadl, the activist, was arrested in March 2019 in Cairo, while Sami was arrested in May 2020 in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.
Despite their lengthy detention, those arrested and released have yet to stand trial.
Egyptian lawmakers and other public figures have repeatedly urged authorities to release activists and rights advocates who have been detained in recent years over alleged politically motivated charges.
Egypt's government has in recent years waged a wide-scale crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of people, mainly Islamists, but also secular activists involved in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Journalists have also been targeted, with dozens imprisoned and some expelled. Egypt remains among the world’s top jailers of journalists, along with Turkey and China, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Investigative judge Ali Mokhtar, meanwhile, dropped charges against four human rights groups, saying there were no legal grounds for a criminal case, rights lawyer Nijad el-Borai said. They had faced charges of illegally receiving foreign funds and using them to harm national security.
The government's sprawling investigation, also known as Case No. 173, dates back to 2011 when Egypt was ruled by a military council following the overthrow of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. At the time, Egyptian authorities froze the assets and imposed travel bans on dozens of rights groups and human rights advocates, angering Western governments.
Mokhtar’s decision Monday means that a yearslong travel ban imposed on five rights advocates, including el-Borai, lawyer Azza Soliman and pro-democracy activist Esraa Abdel-Fattah, would be lifted, el-Borai and Soliman said.
“After seven years of travel ban, Esraa can fly,” Abdel-Fattah wrote in a Facebook post. “Freedom of movement is a constitutional right.”
In 2018, a court acquitted 43 people, including German and U.S. nationals, of charges they illegally received funding for their local and foreign non-governmental organizations. The trial was part of Case No. 173.
The Americans involved in the case worked for NGOs that included Freedom House, International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute. The two Germans were employees of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.