Journalists’ deaths after release – alarm signal for Egypt and Saudi Arabia

In the wake of an Egyptian journalist’s death after he caught Covid-19 in prison and a Saudi journalist’s death just weeks after release, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Egyptian and Saudi authorities to free all detained journalists to avoid a catastrophe before it is too late.

Both of these prominent journalists, Egypt’s Mohamed Monir and Saudi Arabia’s Saleh Al-Shehi, died – on 13 and 19 July respectively – shortly after the authorities suddenly released them from prison without prior warning.

Monir was freed on 2 July, just five days after his preventive detention had been extended by another two weeks. He was arrested for “spreading fake news,” “abusing social media” and “participating in a terrorist group” after being interviewed by the Qatari TV news broadcast Al Jazeera (which is banned in Egypt) and posting a video of a police raid on his home on Facebook.

Al-Shehi was suddenly released on 19 May while serving a five-year jail sentence on a charge of “insulting the royal court” for talking about corruption within Saudi Arabia’s ruling elite during a programme broadcast by the Saudi TV channel Rotana.

The health of both journalists worsened quickly after their release. Monir’s family is very specific about this. He had begun showing Covid-19 symptoms before his release. According to his daughter Sarah, he was taken from hospital to hospital from 28 June onwards for medical examinations and Covid-19 tests until he was finally declared positive on his third Covid-19 test on 8 July.

The sequence of events prior to Al-Shehi’s death are less clear, with many questions needing answers from the Saudi authorities. His family formally reported on 26 June that he was in hospital but, by that date, he had already been in an intensive care unit for more than 10 days, meaning he was hospitalized less than a month after his release from prison.

RSF has demanded an independent international investigation to determine the level of the Saudi prison administration’s responsibility. Regardless of the causes of his premature death, Al-Shehi spent the last two years of his life in prison as a result of an arbitrary jail sentence.

“The deaths of Mohamed Monir and Saleh Al-Shehi during the pandemic speak to the urgency of releasing journalists so that they avoid a tragic fate,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “With just two days to go to Eid, we urge the Egyptian and Saudi authorities to use this occasion to rescue journalists from overcrowded prisons. Let’s avoid a catastrophe before it is too late.”

Egypt and Saudi Arabia are currently the world’s biggest jailers of journalists after China. RSF has identified 30 detained journalists in Egypt and 33 in Saudi Arabia.

Egypt is ranked 166th out of 180 countries and territories in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index. Saudi Arabia is ranked 170th.