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Egypt frees lawyer who backed French protest group, after 4 years in jail

Mohamed Ramadan, 47, was arrested in September 2018 after posting a picture of himself wearing a yellow vest; he was accused of ‘terrorism’ and later of ‘spreading fake news’

Illustrative: A demonstrator holds a French flag during a protest of Yellow vests (Gilets jaunes) against rising oil prices and living costs, in Paris, on December 1, 2018. (Alain JOCARD / AFP / File)
Illustrative: A demonstrator holds a French flag during a protest of Yellow vests (Gilets jaunes) against rising oil prices and living costs, in Paris, on December 1, 2018. (Alain JOCARD / AFP / File)

CAIRO, Egypt — An Egyptian judge Monday ordered the release of a human rights lawyer held in preventive detention for nearly four years for backing a French protest movement, a rights group said.

Mohamed Ramadan, 47, was arrested in September 2018 after posting on Facebook a picture of himself wearing a yellow vest in support of the “yellow vest” protest movement that was rocking France at the time, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) said in a statement.

He was accused of “terrorism” and placed in preventive detention — a punishment that can last two years in Egypt and during which suspects are held without trial.

But when that term ended in 2020, Ramadan was accused of “spreading fake news” and again placed in a two-year preventive detention, the rights group said.

His announced release Monday comes just days after French President Emmanuel Macron received his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Paris.

During Friday’s meeting focusing on security and defense ties, the two leaders also “addressed the issue of human rights,” Macron’s office said in a statement.

Meanwhile, rights watchdog Amnesty International said on Monday that it was “alarmed” by reports that a prominent jailed activist, Ahmed Douma, had been “tortured” last week for having requested that a fellow inmate receive medical care.

Douma reportedly demanded that the authorities provide health services to Ahmed Samir, a researcher sentenced to four years in prison in June 2021 for “spreading false news on social media” — an accusation frequently leveled at dissidents in Egypt.

Cairo has faced frequent criticism for its human rights record, with rights groups saying there are currently about 60,000 political prisoners, many facing brutal conditions and overcrowded cells.

According to the AFTE, Ramadan suffers from several health problems “that deteriorated” during his detention.

The group says he did not receive “proper medical attention” in jail.

Egypt is set to host the COP27 climate summit in November, a role Human Rights Watch has said “rewards” Sisi’s “repressive rule.”

In April, Sisi reactivated the dormant Presidential Pardon Committee and has since released dozens of prisoners from provisional detention.

And earlier this month, authorities launched a “national dialogue,” bringing together political parties and opposition factions, at the behest of Sisi.

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