An academic researcher jailed for three years accused of spreading fake news on social media has been freed by officials in Egypt.
Postgraduate student Ahmed Samir Santawy – who specialises in women’s rights – was sentenced earlier this month after his arrest 17 months ago.
Now Santawy, 31 – a student in Austria – has been freed by presidential decree, according to local media.
Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg is quoted in local media as saying that he was happy and relieved that the student had been released.
Schallenberg said: “We have repeatedly and unequivocally expressed our concern to the Egyptian authorities about the prison conditions and what we consider to be the disproportionate prison sentence.”
Santawy had initially been sentenced to four years in prison on the same charge.
After that sentence was quashed, he faced a retrial by Egypt’s emergency state security court last year and was jailed for three years.
Santawy – a master’s student in anthropology at the Central European University in Vienna – was apparently arrested for his academic work on women’s rights and abortion during a visit to Egypt in February 2021.
Schallenberg added: “I would particularly like to thank my team at the Austrian Embassy in Cairo, led by Ambassador Georg Stillfried, and at the headquarters in Vienna for their tireless efforts since the arrest in February 2021. The diplomatic channels have been running hot and ultimately led to this good turn of events.”
And the President and Rector of the Central European University (CEU), where Santawy is a student, said: “I am overjoyed that Ahmed was pardoned by the Egyptian President last night and released from prison today.
“Now that his ordeal is ending after 18 months in horrendous prison conditions and in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we breathe a sigh of relief.”
The CEU, as well as Amnesty International and the Austrian Students’ Union, had campaigned for his release.
After Santawy’s arrest, he had been interrogated about his research on women’s abortion rights and Islam.
But the authorities claimed he was “joining a terrorist group” and “spreading false news”.
Days later, he was also accused of “funding a terrorist organisation”.
At the time, Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Ahmed Samir Santawy’s arrest and detention appear to be completely arbitrary and part of a pattern of punishing independent voices.”