Al Jazeera journalist returns home after four years’ prison

CAIRO, EGYPT (AFP) – Qatar’s Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein arrived at his home in greater Cairo on Saturday after four years in an Egyptian jail, an AFP journalist reported, amid thawing relations between the countries.

The 54-year-old Egyptian national was released on Thursday from a Cairo prison, a security source and his daughter Azzahra Hussein confirmed to AFP, but bail conditions at a police station in southern Cairo were still being finalised.

“His father died before witnessing this moment, he was waiting for it for a long time,” Hussein’s mother told AFP before her son’s arrival.

Clutching a necklace with a photo of Hussein on it, she was surrounded by throngs of relatives and supporters who had set up colourful lights to celebrate his return.

Neighbours handed out drinks while children lit fireworks as women clapped and ululated. Others rushed to hug him in the small village on the outskirts of Cairo.

Egyptian national and senior journalist for Qatar-based Al Jazeera Arabic Mahmoud Hussein (C) is embraced by a man at his family home in the Giza village of Zawyet Abu Musallam upon his release from detention. PHOTO: AFP

Qatar’s Al Jazeera – which had run a daily campaign calling for his liberation – had repeatedly said he was being held “without formal charges nor trial”.

According to Egyptian law, detainees can be held in pre-trial detention for up to two years, but authorities regularly prolong the periods.

“Even though there are bail conditions… Dad is out of the police station. Freedom to all those oppressed,” his other daughter based in Paris, Aya Hussein said on Twitter.

Hussein’s release comes just over two weeks after Egypt and Qatar restored diplomatic ties, following a three-year freeze on relations with Doha, with a particular focus on Al Jazeera‘s coverage. The group was outlawed after General-turned-President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi led the military overthrow of extremist Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

“(We) welcomes the news of Mahmoud’s freedom… no journalist should ever be subjected to what Mahmoud has suffered for the past four years for merely carrying out his profession,” the Doha-based network said in a statement on Saturday. “While he was incarcerated, Mahmoud had become a symbol of press freedom across the globe.”