Egypt Sends Threat to All Journalists

In May 2019, an Egyptian court ordered that Mahmoud be released but he was not freed. It wasn’t until February 2021 that Mahmoud was finally released from arbitrary detention.

Journalist Mahmoud Hussein Released from Egypt’s Most Notorious Prison After More Than 1,500 Days in Illegal Detention

Journalists are often under threat in Egypt—even those whose work has zero connection to the country. In December 2016, journalist Mahmoud Hussein, a news editor for Al-Jazeera’s Arabic TV channel, was detained and interrogated at Cairo International Airport while on a personal trip home to visit his nine children. His passport was confiscated. Days later, Egyptian authorities seized Mahmoud outside his home and took him into custody without a warrant.

Mahmoud was soon brought to his sister’s house, where authorities coerced him under extreme duress to record a series of “confession” videos, which the state leaked online. In them, he was forced to express his disagreement with an Al-Jazeera documentary focused on the Egyptian military. Mahmoud had zero participation in the documentary project, as his beat covered the European Union. In fact, he didn’t even work in Egypt—he operated out of the network’s headquarters in Qatar’s capital of Doha.

Mahmoud spent 89 days in solitary confinement without light, electricity, heat, ventilation, or sufficient food at Egypt’s notorious Tora “Scorpion” Prison—treatment that amounts to torture. There he developed rashes, shortness of breath, and chest pains, all of which were ignored and untreated. Eventually authorities moved Mahmoud to a cell within the general prison population. Almost four months passed before meeting with his lawyer.

On the outside, Egyptian authorities terrorized Mahmoud’s family. His brothers were arrested and subjected to invasive searches. Police streamed from armored vehicles to raid his sister’s home without a warrant and pointed a gun at her 12-year-old son, and Mahmoud’s wife found herself suspended from her job at the Egyptian state television company.

Why is This a Key Case?

Many journalists in Egypt are silenced for what they say. The Egyptian government has jailed more journalists than any country other than Turkey or China as of 2019 and has amplified its crackdown by accusing reporters of disseminating “false news,” blocking websites, placing journalists on terrorist watch lists, and sentencing Ibrahim Helal, a former editor-in-chief of Al-Jazeera Arabic, to death in absentia.

However, Mahmoud was detained not because of his coverage but simply because he worked for Al-Jazeera, whose unbiased reporting on the Muslim Brotherhood has enraged Egyptian authorities. Many journalists’ freedom of expression is violated by aggressive state action. In Mahmoud’s case, so was his freedom of association with Al-Jazeera—and his detention is meant to serve as an open threat to other journalists connected to outlets who engage in negative coverage of Egypt’s policies.

How is RFK Human Rights Supporting Mahmoud?

The organization submitted a petition to the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in April 2017 and worked with press freedom groups to raise pressure on Egypt for Mahmoud’s release. In November 2017, the Working Group determined that Mahmoud had been arbitrarily detained without charge, which violated his due-process rights and amounted to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. The Working Group called on Egypt to immediately release Mahmoud and to amend its laws and practices to conform with its international human rights obligations.

Name of the case (as it appears in the respective legal mechanism)

Mahmoud Hussein Gommaa Ali vs. Egypt

Month/Year of filing

April 2017

Legal mechanism in which the case is being litigated

United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

Rights and legal instruments alleged violated (OR found to have been violated)

Articles 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of articles 2, 7, 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 17, 19, 20 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Procedural stage



Lawyer Malek Adly, Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), RFKHR