Journalist Mohamed Mounir dies after release from prison

Prominent journalist Mohamed Mounir died of complications from COVID-19 on Monday, according to his daughter, eleven days after being released from prison, where he had been held in remand detention.

Mounir, 65, was arrested from his home on June 15 in a dawn raid by security forces and taken to an unknown location. He was eventually brought before the State Security Prosecution which ordered him to be held in remand detention on charges of spreading false news, joining a terrorist group, and misuse of social media. At the time, Mounir’s family said his arrest came after his appearance in a television program on Al-Jazeera where he discussed the ongoing controversy around the construction of churches in Egypt. 

Mounir, who had long suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure, was held in the Talbiya police station in the Haram district of Giza in Greater Cairo. An order for his detention to be renewed for 15 days was issued on June 27.

According to a Facebook post by his daughter, Mounir was taken from the police station on June 30 to a hospital in Haram to have a chest X-ray and swab taken to test for COVID-19. The results came out negative and he was transferred directly to the hospital inside the Tora prison complex.

Two days later, on July 2, he was released from Tora Prison. His health immediately began to deteriorate further and his fever rose, according to his daughter. On July 4, Mounir published a post on his personal Facebook page in which he stated that he felt extremely ill. In the post, Monir says medical tests run at the Tora hospital had revealed that he was suffering from kidney failure. A few days later, on July 7, Mounir posted a Facebook video calling on the Journalists Syndicate to provide financial support and assistance in securing a bed at an isolation hospital, as the tests he’d already undergone had left him without much excess cash. 

“I am very sick … I need oxygen,” Mounir says in the video as he is visibly struggling to breathe. “Someone please help me.”

According to his daughter, on July 8, Mounir did another PCR test at Agouza Hospital and tested positive for COVID-19. He died in the isolation unit at Agouza Hospital on Monday. 

“We are extremely disturbed by journalist Mohamed Mounir’s death today after he spent more than two weeks unnecessarily held in pretrial detention at Cairo’s notorious Tora Prison,” Sherif Mansour, the Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement. “Egyptian authorities must release all journalists held for their work, as even brief detentions amid the COVID-19 pandemic can mean a death sentence.”

Mounir was a founder of the Front for the Defense of Journalists and Freedoms. He previously worked at a number of newspapers, including Youm7, Masr al-Arabiya and Al-Ahaly.

His arrest in mid-June came after the police reportedly raided his home twice two days earlier while no one was home and rifled through his belongings. Mounir had posted a video on Facebook that he claimed was from a surveillance camera inside his building that shows security forces breaking into his apartment.

Several members of the Journalists Syndicate penned tributes to Mounir, including syndicate head Diaa Rashwan and board member Mahmoud Kamel. Kamel said that Mounir was outspoken when Egypt passed sovereignty over the two islands of Tiran and Sanafir over to Saudi Arabia, lamenting the pursuit of “anyone whose opinion offends the official line.” Kamel praised Mounir’s bravery and lack of compromise throughout his career. Rashwan described Mounir as a “cynical writer, after the style of the greats in the Egyptian tradition of journalism.” 

Egypt is the third-worst jailer of journalists in the world, according to CPJ. Authorities in Egypt use the charge of “false news” to imprison journalists more than in any other country, CPJ says.

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