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Al Jazeera Journalist on Hunger Strike to Be Released From Egyptian Prison

Abdullah Elshamsy, who has been held without charges for over 300 days, will be released for health concerns.

by Jordan Larson
Jun 16 2014, 9:55pm

Photo via AP

Al Jazeera journalist Abdullah Elshamy, who has spent more than ten months in Egyptian prison and more than five months on hunger strike, is now set to be released on an order from Egypt's prosecutor general.

A statement from the prosecutor's office cited "health conditions" in releasing Elshamy and 12 others, according to the Associated Press.

The 26-year-old reporter was arrested in August of 2013 while covering a pro-Morsi protest in Cairo for Al Jazeera’s Arabic language channel, and has been held since without formal charges.

According to his family, Elshamy has lost a third of his body weight during his time in jail.

On May 13, his family told reporters Elshamy was in critical health and nearly comatose. His brother Mosaab Elshamy told Agence France-Presse he was suffering from “anaemia, the start of kidney failure, low blood pressure and hypoglycaemia.”

When he last appeared in court on May 3, Elshamy told the press he had not had access to a lawyer while in prison and was sharing a 130 square foot cell with over a dozen others.

Three days later he sent a letter to the European Union (EU) High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, urging them to intervene in support of journalistic freedom in Egypt.

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Elshamy is one of four Al Jazeera journalists who were arrested while covering last year’s military overthrow and ensuing dissent, and just one of 16,000 detained since the coup.

The other three Al Jazeera journalists — Canadian-Egyptian Cairo Bureau Chief Mohammed Fahmy, Australian reporter Peter Greste, and Baher Mohammed, a local producer — who were reporting for the company’s English language channel, have been charged with a number of offenses, from doctoring film footage to aiding the Muslim Brotherhood, now deemed a terrorist organization by the Egyptian government.

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Last month, three of Greste and Mohammed’s lawyers quit abruptly, alleging that Al Jazeera was trying to misrepresent and embarrass Egypt.

"Al Jazeera is using my clients. I have emails from (the channel) telling me they don't care about the defendants and care about insulting Egypt,” their lead lawyer, Farag Fathy Farag, told Agence France-Presse.

Defense lawyers were also told they must pay $170,000 for access to the evidence against their clients.

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On June 3, prosecutors in court sought the highest possible sentences — Fahmy and Mohammed face 15 years in prison, while Greste faces seven.

Evidence presented in court against the journalists includes a segment on animal hospitals from another news channel, Sky News Arabia, and a recording of the Gotye song "Somebody That I Used To Know."

Many Egyptians suspect Al Jazeera of trying to undermine the Egyptian government.

This is largely due to the perception that Qatar, where Al Jazeera is headquartered, backs the Muslim Brotherhood, due to their funding of the Morsi government before the military overthrow.

Follow Jordan Larson on Twitter: @jalarsonist