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Egypt releases detained journalist amid outcry

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Egypt’s prosecutor-general has ordered the release of a journalist days after she was arrested in the country’s south, amid outcry from international press freedom advocates.

“The prosecutor-general has ordered the release of the defendant Basma Mostafa after she was questioned on the charges laid against her,” the prosecution said in a statement overnight Monday into Tuesday, adding that the investigation would continue.

Prosecutors had accused her of “using her personal social media account to publish and promote false news”, the statement said.

Mostafa, a freelance journalist, had been brought before prosecutors on Sunday.

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She was arrested the day before while attempting to report on the alleged police killing of a man in the wake of small-scale demonstrations last month near the southern city of Luxor, according to Al-Manassa news website, where she is a regular contributor.

Her lawyers had said on Sunday that she would be detained for 15 days.

On Tuesday, the public prosecution said it was investigating the killing of the man in Luxor.

“The prosecution was notified about his death as he tried to resist police forces during a raid on his and his family’s house,” it said in a statement.

At the time, police had a warrant to arrest members of his family, according to the prosecution.

New York-based media watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Monday characterised her arrest as a “clear retaliation for covering news that the Egyptian government wants to suppress”.

Also Monday, the International Press Institute in Vienna called her detention “outrageous” and accused the international community of turning “a blind eye to the gross press freedom and human rights violations in Egypt”.

Both organisations identified Mostafa as the wife of Karim Abdelrady, whom the IPI described as a “human rights lawyer… who represents several detained journalists and human rights defenders in Egypt”.

Dozens of Egyptians took to the streets last month in several villages across the country, according to videos shared widely on social media, especially by sympathisers of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood movement.

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The demonstrations coincided with mounting anger, particularly in rural and low-income areas, over sweeping government campaigns against illegal construction, which have forced people to pay fines to legalise home ownership.

They came after exiled businessman Mohamed Ali, who has emerged as a vocal critic of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi since last year, called for protests against the government.

Egypt has increasingly targeted journalists in an ongoing crackdown on dissent since the 2013 military ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

The clampdown has swept up thousands of Islamist supporters of the late Morsi as well as secular activists, lawyers and academics.

Egypt is the third-worst jailer of journalists globally behind China and Turkey, according to a 2019 CPJ report.

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