A prominent Egyptian journalist jailed after criticising Egypt’s coronavirus response has died after contracting the virus in prison, an international press watchdog said, warning that the virus may be spreading undetected in the country’s overcrowded jails.
Mohamed Monir died in an isolation unit at a Cairo hospital on Monday, his family said, after being released from Cairo’s Tora prison on July 2 for poor health.
After his release, Monir posted on Facebook complaining of shortness of breath and chest pain, saying he had contracted coronavirus.
“Even brief detentions amid the Covid-19 pandemic can mean a death sentence,” said Sherif Mansour, Middle East programme coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, calling on authorities to release detained journalists.
Monir, a 65-year-old veteran journalist, had criticised the government’s handling of the pandemic, including in a June 14 column for Al Jazeera and a May 26 interview for the Qatari-owned channel, which is banned by the Egyptian government.
Authorities arrested Monir on June 15, charging him with joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media. Detainees can be held for years on such vague charges, which were not linked to specific examples of his work, his lawyer said.
Since assuming the presidency in 2013, former army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi has intensified a clampdown on dissent, silencing critics and jailing thousands. The CPJ ranks Egypt among the world’s worst jailers of journalists alongside China and Turkey.
Authorities banned Al Jazeera in 2013 after the military-led overthrow of Egypt’s first freely-elected president Mohamed Morsi, saying the network was a mouthpiece for Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood Islamist party.
Since February, authorities have arrested journalists and doctors who criticise Egypt’s handling of the pandemic. Egypt’s health ministry has recorded over 82,000 cases and nearly 4,000 deaths from coronavirus, the highest toll in the Arab world.
In May, Egyptian authorities forced British Guardian journalist Ruth Michaelson to leave the country after she reported on a scientific study that said Egypt likely had many more coronavirus cases than had been officially confirmed.